HB951 threatens serious political damage to the GOP
by Steven Rader
Suppose a “woke” utility monopoly wanted to “virtue signal” to the green left and bump up its ESG score with a Green New Deal scheme that greatly raises electric rates for consumers while hurting the reliability of the electricity delivery system, and expects Repubicans to swallow this suicide pill. Sadly that is exactly what is going on with HB951 and some House leaders at least seem to have swallowed it.
“Woke” Duke Energy has been “virtue signalling” to the green left for some time, but until now that has mostly been through radio ads hyping expensive and undependable solar energy that as mere ads do not impact power bills. With HB 951 that would all change, and it could be devastaring to the GOP politically when angry electric customers shocked by rate increases turn on those who caused them.
HB951 is North Carolina's Green New Deal. Following the AOC / Greta Thunberg mantra, it would prematurely close six coal fired power plants in North Carolina, and compell electric customers to pay for that action, costing an estimated $5 Billion, through significiantly increased electric bills. To make matters worse, it would replace some of that lost capacity with expensive and unreliable “green energy” backed up, in theory at least, by giant batteries, causing even more increases in power bills.
How much extra does “green energy” cost? A “green energy” contract reported earlier this year by the New York Daily News is instructive. The Long Island Power Authority recently contracted to purchase wind energy from the South Fork Wind Project at a wholesale rate four and a half times what it pays for the wholesale cost of conventional electricity. That, of course, gets passed on to the consumer.
Another example is Angela Merkel's “Energie Wende” (energy transition) to wind and solar in Germany, which has lots of paralells with HB951's “energy modernization”. German electric rates have been rising steadily since then and have not stopped. Germans now pay three times as much for elecrticity as North Carolinians do. Major German companies are decamping from their homeland citing both high electric rates and serious questions about reliability.
The big battery scheme is another boondoggle which has never seemed to work properly where it has been tried. The state of South Australia installed the world's biggest battery to back up its wind and solar power, but when a failure of wind power caused their first blackout after the battery was installed, it only dribbled out power for 15 minutes and then died. They have now added diesel generators as backup, but are still plagued with frequent rolling blackouts.
A further problem with the giant lithium batteries is their propensity to spontaneously combust and spew large clouds of highly toxic smoke into communities. This has already happened in Belgium, South Korea, and just a few weeks ago in the Australian state of Victoria. Even more recently, California's big battery at Moss Landing, CA had several of its sub-units suddenly start to overheat so the whole thing was quickly shut down before it could catch fire. It is now offline indefinitely until they figure out how to resolve the problem.
So how does this play politically? Polling in the US has shown that even the believers in the manmade global warming theory are willing to pay almost nothing out of their own pocket to combat it. Election results. in other English speaking countries are even more instructive. When Australia's Labour government passed a carbon tax, conservative leader Tony Abbott won the biggest landslide in recent Australian history on his pledge that his first act would be to repeal it and he did so.
More recent Australian elections have focused even more directly on “green energy”. The state of South Austraia's Labour government over 16 years took state electric generation from largely coal fired to 50% wind and solar, blowing up the state's last coal power plant. In the process, however, they took the state's residential electric rate from the lowest in the world when they used coal to the highest in the world after they imposed green power, with frequent rolling blackouts to boot. An independent federal senator from the state, having accomplished his original goal in running, shifted gears to combat the green energy boondoggle, and his newly formed party won three of the state's federal senate seats on that platform. Then, in the most recent state election, Labour called for moving to 70% wind and solar and proclaimed the state election “a referendum on green energy”. Voters responded by kicking them out of office.
Labour's push for more green energy was also credited with the upset reelection of the conservative coalition in Australia's last national parliamentary election, in spite of the conservatives being badly divided and fighting among themselves, and running an exceptionally poor campaign. The conservatives even managed to slightly increase their majority. Observers across the spectrum had expected an easy Labour victory given the internal problems of the conservative coalition, but Labour snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory by aggressively embracing green energy.
Then there is Canada's most populous province, Ontario, whose biggest city is Toronto. Just before their last provincial election, Ontario's Conservatives named Doug Ford as their new leader, and Ford smelled blood on the Liberal's long love affair with green energy. His Conservative campaign focused on ending the green energy boondoggle, attacking its cost and the environmental blight it caused. When the votes were counted, Ford's Conservatives won the biggest landslide in Canadian history, flipping a 2 to 1 Liberal majority in the outgoing provincial parliament to a 10 to 1 Conservative majority over the Liberals in the new parliament. His government's first act was to cancel all of the wind and solar projects in the permitting pipeline, over 800 or them, and that was soon followed by the outright repeal of the Green Energy Act. The Conservatives also helped facilitate investigation of ground water pollution by wind energy companies, leading to criminal indictments of four wind energy companies for multiple felonies of polluting the groundwater.
The parliament of the European Union voted earlier this year to make the EU “carbon neutral” by 2050 and the green energy chickens are already coming home to roost. Electricity prices are already up an average of 15% across the EU, with some like Spain, being hit particularly hard. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister told a recent EU conference that the rising electric cost “is obviously creating unrest in our population”. Poland's Prime Minister has projected that the EU green energy mandate will raise Polish electricity rates 40% in 2022 and keep going up. He declared “we have here the very expensive climate policy of the European Union.” Even the director of the Berlin-based pro-green energy consultacy E3 Analytics warned of “significant political pushback” due to higher energy prices and reduced reliability from the shift to wind and solar. French economist Jean Pisani-Ferry warned of a mass populist protest movement taking to the streets across Europe like France's Yellow Vest movement that forced French President Macron to reverse his earlier “climate” measures.
In short, “green energy” is a tarbaby and grabbing it is a losing proposition politically. Voters care more about their electric power being cheap and reliable than about virtue signalling on climate alarmism. Rate increases may not hit in time for the 2022 election if HB951 passes, but they likely would by 2024, and the GOP fingerpirnts on this pander to “woke” Duke Energy could cost the party dearly at the polls. Republicans in the Senate still have the opportunity to stop this runaway train before it inflicts serious damage on the Republican brand in North Carolina. What this bill would do to family budgets with its higher electric rates would be its greatest political impact, and that is likely to be enormous. North Carolina ratepayers should not be burdened with “woke” Duke Energy's “environmental justice” crusade or ESG score, but if they are, expect them to strike back at those politicians responsible at the voting booth.
Electric consumers, both residential and business have spoken out at a Senate hearing on HB951 on their opposition to the electric rate increases it would cause. It is time for Republicans in the Senate to listen to them and drive a stake through the heart of this special interest monster. True Republicans should be defending the interests of electric ratepayers and taxpayers, not genuflecting to a “woke” utility monopoly and its green left ESG agenda.
(Steven Rader has held office in the NC Republican Party at the state, district and county level and has been inducted into the NCGOP Hall of Fame. He was a political appointee in the Jim Martin administration and has worked professionally in politics in both Europe and North Carolina)