Follow the Money: Cooper’s Green Agenda
|Editor’s Note: This story was updated on February 27, 2023 to reflect the ownership of land housing a Nash County solar farm as being Will Clark Properties, LLC. now managed by Meredith Cooper, Gov. Roy Cooper’s sister-in-law.|
As the North Carolina Utilities Commission works on a Carbon Plan that would dramatically shape the state’s energy future, the state grew by 133,088 people in 2022 alone, the third fastest-growing state in the nation. North Carolina’s tax climate is the primary draw, along with the quality of our work force and higher education system.
One variable in the equation will keep the economic progress engine moving forward or stop it in its tracks: affordable, reliable energy.
The state’s electrical grid was tested this year between rolling blackouts and an attack on a substation in Moore County, but the test has been coming. Since taking office in 2016, Gov. Roy Cooper has made transitioning the state to renewable energy a centerpiece of his agenda. Over his tenure, a series of four executive orders highlights his policy goals and points to the disconnect between “green” dreams and reality. While executive orders are not laws, they outline policy mandates and direct state agencies to expend money, time, and resources toward them.
Behind the headlines
Roy Cooper and his brother, Pell, bought Nash County land from their father in 1996 and in 2012 formed Will Clark Properties LLC to manage it. In 2013, Pell Cooper signed a 20-year lease with Nash 58 Farm, an LLC formed by Solar Development, to put a solar farm on the property. In 2014, Roy Cooper left the Will Clark Properties LLC and he and his brother divided the land and formed Sapony Creek Properties LLC. To manage the portion of property without solar panels on it. Since 2019, Pell Cooper’s wife, Meredith Cooper, has managed Will Clark Properties, LLC, and Roy Cooper has been listed as the manager of Sapony Properties, LLC.
Donations from climate change political action committees account for nearly 25% of his campaign funds in 2016. The money has helped him not only claim the governor’s office but shuffle off campaign money to Democrats across the state vying for seats in the N.C. General Assembly and elsewhere.
Cooper was the beneficiary of nearly $3.5 million in independent expenditures from green energy groups for his gubernatorial elections in 2016 and 2020. Organizations such as the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, Environment America Action Fund, and the Conservation Voters PAC dropped roughly $2 million in the last few months of the 2016 election against then-Gov. Pat McCrory.
The green agenda coming from N.C. Democrats, led by Cooper, has manifested in not just his executive orders but an entire industry of public relations writers, think tanks, activists, and climate scientists who have set up shop across the state, where they find a friendly face in the executive mansion.
Environmental groups have invested well outside of campaign contributions and lobbying in order to establish favorable policies. We have seen major investments in special-interest groups and even so much as establishing grants for local newspapers to hire friendly reporters to cover environmental issues.
Executive Order 271 and House bill 951
The most impactful of Cooper’s climate-driven agenda is Executive Order 271, requiring the N.C. Utilities Commission to initiate a “swift transition to a clean energy economy by developing a Carbon Plan that would reduce carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.” Other directives include the state government moving to electric vehicles and increasing the number of EVs sold here. The orders give the N.C. Utilities Commission and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality an unprecedented to-do list and the power to shape the state’s economic future.
The N.C. Utilities Commission is full of Cooper appointees, except one, who was appointed by former Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue and reappointed by Cooper.
The Commission’s latest proposal, the Carbon Plan, was released on Dec. 30. It attempts to enact Cooper’s executive order and a state law, House Bill 951, passed in 2021 by the legislature to put guardrails on the energy plan. The law requires that regulators use reliable and low-cost energy generation methods to achieve carbon reduction goals. According to energy policy experts, the Carbon Plan not only fails to meet the law; its basic math just doesn’t work.
“The mandate in NCUC’s Carbon Plan that accelerates retirement of 9,000 megawatts of baseload coal generation represents nearly 30% of Duke Energy’s generation portfolio,” said Amy Cooke, CEO of the John Locke Foundation and an energy policy expert. “In their proposal, NCUC ordered 2,350 megawatts of new solar generation that require expensive transmission and infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the intermittent resources. That’s on top of massive taxpayer-funded subsidies. Solar’s biggest problem is that it has a ‘maximum dependable capacity of 0 MW.’ Translation: It’s 100% unreliable. No worries. NCUC has us covered with a directive to build 1,600 megawatts of battery storage. Currently, Duke has two battery storage units, 18 megawatts in Florida and 5 megawatts in Indiana.”
The NCUC Carbon Plan offers natural gas as “bridge” fuel until more wind, solar, and batteries can be developed and allows for 2,000 megawatts of new natural gas. Still, the current natural gas availability is all tapped. The infrastructure for more doesn’t exist after climate activist groups flexed political muscle in shutting down the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2018.
During the fight over the ACP, Cooper negotiated control of a $57.8 million fund from a utility coalition building the pipeline. The Civitas Institute filed a state ethics complaint against Cooper, seeking an investigation into the fund and whether it amounted to a gift from the utilities in exchange for approval to build.
“Not only is there a question that these funds could be considered an illegal gift under the State Government Ethics Act’s gift ban, but they might trickle into projects or accounts that benefit the governor and/or his political campaigns,” said then-Civitas President Donald Bryson, who is now president of the John Locke Foundation
The N.C. State Board of Elections dismissed the complaint without notifying the Civitas Institute. Cooper still took heat from the environmental left over the pipeline and the permits to build it until it was finally canceled.
“Agenda-driven environmentalists both inside and outside government have prevented necessary expansion,” said Cooke, also noting that Duke Energy Progress customers pay nearly 20% more for electricity than Duke Energy Carolinas customers, because Progress comprises more solar generation and less nuclear than Carolinas.
Cooke has concerns about the numbers behind the Carbon Plan. “NCUC provides no fiscal analysis,” she said. “We have no idea how much this will cost ratepayers. But Duke just requested the first big plan-induced rate hike. The NCUC blew its opportunity. It ignored ratepayer protection guardrails, gave a lifeline to intermittent solar, and punted on dispatchable, baseload generation.”
Cooper is off the ballot in 2024 due to term limits. He has not endorsed a Democrat successor, but there is speculation that North Carolina’s Michael Regan, current administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, could come back to run in the state’s gubernatorial primary. Regan previously served as secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality in Cooper’s first term as governor. Putting a federal EPA leader in North Carolina’s governor’s mansion could cement Cooper’s green agenda in N.C. policy for generations to come.
Data research conducted by Jim Stirling, Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation.