JLF Memo
Apr. 11th, 2013: - johnlocke.org Manage Subscriptions

The energy over energy in the legislature
By Jon Sanders

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The energy bill garnering the most attention right now is H.B. 298, the "Affordable and Reliable Energy Act." A new letter to the General Assembly by a coalition of free-market public policy and grassroots organizations (signatories include yours truly) advises legislators against "picking winners and losers in electricity generation and forcing its citizens to bear the higher costs" and urges them to support least-cost, reliable, and efficient energy sources for the good of the state's citizens and its economy.

There are, however, other measures before the General Assembly that merit watching.

Third-party electricity sales to the military

S.B. 590, the "Military Good Neighbor Act," would allow for third-party electricity sales to U.S. military institutions in North Carolina. It would be a step in the right direction of freeing up electricity choice, since at present North Carolinians have no choice in electricity providers.

Complete lack of consumer choice is one of the background issues behind the controversy surrounding H.B. 298, which would cap the state's renewable energy portfolio standards. Consumers with disparate needs and differing electricity choices are forced into commerce with the same utility offering a Hobson's Choice of electricity generation. If your preference is for the cheapest electricity at the flip of a switch, you are out of luck. Likewise, if your preference is to support more solar and renewable energy than is mandated, you are also out of luck.

As I wrote in the conclusion of my recent "Carolina Cronyism" study on the state's RPS mandate,

North Carolina policy should support least-cost, reliable, and efficient energy sources. ... Meanwhile, rather than dictate energy source bundles to utilities, N.C. lawmakers should consider ways to free up electricity markets to less price-sensitive consumers who would like to be able to receive electricity from select sources, including solar and wind power, if given the opportunity.

Or no third-party electricity sales for anyone

Another bill would stand in the way of third-party sales, however. S.B. 635, "Transmission Line Ownership," would make a few key changes to state law to clarify who may construct new electricity transmission lines. It would stipulate that "Only a public utility, as defined in this Article, may obtain a certificate to construct a new transmission line."

Notice how that depends upon how "public utility" is defined. Here is the current definition (with emphasis added):

The term "public utility" means a person, whether organized under the laws of this State or under the laws of any other state or country, engaged in producing, generating, transmitting, delivering, or furnishing electricity for private or public use, including counties, municipalities, joint municipal power agencies, electric membership corporations, and public and private corporations

S.B. 635 would change that definition to be instead:

The term "public utility" means any of the following:

a)    A public utility, as defined in G.S. 62‑3(23).
b)   An electric membership cooperative.
c)    A joint municipal power agency.
d)   A city or county that is engaged in producing, generating, transmitting, delivering, or furnishing electricity for private or public use.

This redefinition would prevent public and private corporations from building transmission lines, and without the lines, if they were generating electricity, they would be unable to transmit it for sale. It would solidify utilities' control over electrical sales, an item of great importance to the monopoly providers. Just last week Duke Energy was complaining about the unfairness of losing energy sales just from homeowners having solar panels installed on their own houses.

Wind power bill skips on protecting North Carolinians

Another energy bill that would seem to favor the military is H.B. 484, "Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities." Under the state's current RPS mandate, the bill would address a significant concern of military bases that the placement of wind turbines in and around military flight paths would interfere with low-altitude flight training. It would also attempt to address environmental concerns with wind turbines as well as their effect on animals, especially birds and bats.

There are significant concerns with H.B. 484, however; primarily, the bill doesn't go far enough. It would protect military training and birds and bats. The bill lacks language to protect North Carolinians, though proximity to wind turbines is associated with negative health effects. Daren Bakst wrote about those severe effects in his Wind Power Primer:

According to the United Kingdom Noise Association:

Research by medical doctors has unearthed persistent complaints from people saying they not only hear the noise from wind turbines, but can "feel" disturbance in their bodies. This has lead to complaints of illness. The symptoms people are complaining about are very similar to those associated with vibroacoustic disease. The suggestion is that the unique combination of noise (containing an element of low-frequency) and the strobing effects of the flickering blades, is having a physical effect on some people.

The French National Academy of Medicine has recommended that wind turbines not be placed within approximately one mile of a residence, at least until more research has been done. The United Kingdom Noise Association also recommends a one-mile distance between a wind turbine and a residence.

H.B. 484 would use a half-mile as the threshold.

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