Are state Republicans carrying the torch for clean energy?

When I wrote about North Carolina's political turmoil impacting the environment, I failed to cover one important counterpoint to the narrative that Republicans were destroying environmental progress in the Tar Heel State:

North Carolina is undergoing a major, utility-scale solar boom.

At least part of the reason for that boom is because a conservative-led effort to repeal North Carolina's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was defeated, but it should also be noted that soon afterward, Governor Pat McCrory—who has been vilified for many of the controversial political decisions that have put NC in the national spotlight—declared that June 2013 would be known as "solar energy month".

Contrary to the impression given by partisan rancor on the national stage, McCrory is not alone among conservatives in supporting clean energy. In fact, on the state level, Republicans are often backing certain clean energy initiatives that can kickstart new industries in their regional economies.

Lee Peterson, an attorney specialising in clean energy issues, argues over at Renewable Energy World that there's actually a growing tide of support for renewables among Republicans if you look at it on a state-by-state basis. Citing the case of North Carolina, and also Georgia where law makers voted unanimously to allow Georgia Power to purchase 210MW of solar, Peterson makes the case that this conservative push for clean energy is testament to the robustness of American democracy (you don't hear too many people pushing that line of argument right now!):

A growing number of American utilities are facilitating this progress at the state level because it’s what the citizens, voters and taxpayers in those states have decided is best for them, their state and their country. No one is threatening to secede from the United State over renewable energy. Rather, we engaged in expanding renewable energy resources because it is the American thing to do. Therefore, despite the continuing gridlock in Congress, the states are mostly exercising their liberty and moving ahead with their own renewable energy build-out, not so much as part of a larger transition away from coal to natural gas, but to diversify the energy sector and enhance local and national security.

Republican support for clean energy should certainly be applauded and encouraged. But the last line of the quote above should give us pause for thought.

As long as support for renewables remains couched in the nonsense of "all of the above" energy strategies; as long as fossil fuels are allowed to pass off their true costs on the rest of society; and as long as states like North Carolina continue to do crazy things like enshrining climate denial into law or systematically undermining the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, then clean energy will remain a bit player in a fossil fuel driven economy being undermined by an increasingly unstable climate.

These Conservative-led clean energy efforts are a great stop gap measure allowing renewables to remain competitive with fossil fuel monoliths, and they are a tantalizing sign that the debate over our energy future is not as black and white as people make it out to be. But at some point—regardless of party-political affiliations—we're all going to have to get serious about a low carbon economy. No party has yet shown itself willing to grasp that nettle in earnest—but whoever gets there first has the potential to define the political narrative in decades to come.

Tags: Activism | Economics | Renewable Energy

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