Who Determines Energy Policy in North Carolina? | Beaufort County Now | Gov. Roy Cooper pushes wind energy panacea via executive order, but Chairman of the N.C. Energy Policy Council Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson deems the move an overstep of authority that does not ‘follow the science'

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Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal. The author of this post is Jeff Moore.

    Are offshore wind farms a job creating investment that makes North Carolina's energy portfolio more environmentally friendly? That is debatable, but, more important, who gets to make the call one way or another?

    Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson doesn't think it should be the left up to one partisan politician, and so, when Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order last week committing the state to pursuing such a strategy, Robinson wasted no time in clapping back that the policy — and the process — were suspect.

    On June 9, Cooper signed Executive Order 218 creating the N.C. Task Force for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies within the N.C. Department of Commerce. The goal is advancing offshore wind energy projects and significantly expanding the 'clean energy' share of North Carolina power production.

    A common plank in the Democratic Party platform, 'clean energy' was described in cynical terms by Robinson, a Republican, being that the state is barely removed from an energy crunch exacerbated by a scarcity of reliable energy infrastructure like fossil fuel pipelines.

    In a statement released on the heels of the governor's announcement, Robinson accused Cooper of "pushing the Green New Deal agenda of the Biden administration and environmental activists while ignoring what experts have called the "No. 1 vulnerability" of our energy infrastructure." Further criticizing the process itself, Robinson continued, "Just weeks after Cooper's Department of Environmental Quality denied a necessary permit to a critical natural gas pipeline, and after his own appointee to lead DEQ failed to receive Senate confirmation, the governor continues along a misguided path for North Carolina's energy policy by executive decree."

    The governor also avoided any consultation with, or mention of, the N.C. Energy Policy Council, and Robinson argues it is so Cooper can retain partisan control of such energy policy initiatives through political appointments to the respective task forces the order creates.

    "North Carolina has a mechanism established by state law for studying energy issues facing the state and advising the General Assembly: the bipartisan Energy Policy Council, of which I am the chairman. However, Governor Cooper has decided that he alone establishes the energy policies of North Carolina with this Executive Order, which establishes yet another 'task force' composed solely of appointees chosen by him, but fails to even mention the Energy Policy Council."

    Cooper's order specifies a wind energy generation goal of 2.8 Gigawatts (GW) by 2030 — more than 1,300 percent higher than 2019 levels — and 8 GW by 2040. According to the federal government's Energy Information Administration, as of 2019 wind energy accounted for only 0.4% of electricity production in North Carolina. Notably, there is currently only one utility-scale wind farm in the state — in north eastern North Carolina and owned by Amazon. The Amazon operation sports a generation capacity of 208 megawatts.

    The order also sets goals for dramatically reducing carbon emissions by 70% by 2030, and to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.

    A new position is created by the order, too: Clean Energy Economic Development Coordinator. Indeed, the initiative is billed by Cooper as a job creator that will grow the economy through the development of "clean energy" supply chain manufacturing while reducing climate pollution.

    Here again, Robinson questions the purported wisdom of unilateral forays into offshore wind energy.

    "With this Executive Order, Governor Cooper attempts to commit North Carolina to a future dependent upon unreliable, outrageously expensive, environmentally suspect, and socially irresponsible offshore wind power. This idea is not the economic gold-mine the Cooper administration would have us believe. According to the Energy Information Administration, offshore wind is 2.6 times more expensive than onshore wind power and is 3.4 times more expensive than power produced by a natural gas combined cycle plant. In its most recent report, the EIA estimated that the electricity produced by offshore wind facilities placed in service in 2025 will have an average cost of $122.25 per megawatt-hour, while the electricity produced by natural gas facilities will have an average cost of only $38.07 per megawatt-hour. North Carolina's citizens and businesses will bear the cost of Cooper's environmental activism and high-priced electricity every month in their electric bills."

    After highlighting the often conspicuous sources and methods of manufacture for wind energy componentry, facts that undermine wind power as environmentally friendly, Robinson cited the Manhattan Institute in asserting that "offshore wind will result in higher electricity costs, less economic growth, and significant adverse environmental impacts."

    "Governor Cooper should stop following the marching orders of the Biden administration and left-wing environmental activists, and instead take his own advice and "follow the science," Robinson stated in closing.

    In alluding to Cooper's and Democrats' frequent appeal to scientific authority during the pandemic — a phrase often mocked by Republicans after it became apparent the "science" contradicted the efficacy of emergency COVID restrictions, and which elected officials like Cooper continued to support despite their adopted motto — Robinson pulls to the center of the political arena what was an otherwise wonky and one-sided policy issue quietly advancing through the executive branch.

    As such, Robinson not only demonstrates the power of the bully pulpit, but more tangibly turns the question of offshore wind energy development into a debate, instead of a decree.

    Read the full executive order from Governor Cooper HERE.
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