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Solar Bill In Danger As Senate Adds Wind Power Moratorium

duke energy solar near Elizabeth City
Duke Energy
A worker at a Duke Energy solar farm near Elizabeth City.

Legislation designed to encourage more solar energy in North Carolina is in jeopardy after the state House and Senate passed different versions of the bill. A key sticking point is a provision the Senate added that would halt new wind power projects in the state until the end of 2020. 

The original House version of the bill (House Bill 589) was a rare example of political compromise - worked out by lawmakers, Duke Energy, and solar energy advocates. It easily passed the House three weeks ago, by a 108 to 11 vote.

But when it got to the other chamber, Senators made big changes. That included the moratorium on wind farms, added by Senator Harry Brown of Onslow County. Brown argues that the moratorium will allow time to make sure wind turbines don't interfere with flights from the state's military bases - even though the military has said that's not a problem.

Brown and others have previously introduced legislation to ban or limit wind farms, but it has never passed. A year ago, a partial ban died when the legislature adjourned before the two chambers could come up with a deal.

Duke Energy says it prefers the House bill. Spokesman Randy Wheeless said the utility still hopes a compromise can be reached.

"Our goal this year was really to advance some renewable energy legislation in the general assembly that was going to be positive for solar energy for North Carolina, positive for customers, positive for solar businesses, too. So no legislation would be a defeat for us," Wheeless said. 

Lawmakers have appointed a conference committee to negotiate their disagreements. But it's not clear if there's time to do that before the legislature adjourns.


House Bill 589 on NCLeg.net 

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.