Opinion: CJ Opinion

NC needs an energy plan that will work

In his influential 2002 book “The Hydrogen Economy,” Jeremy Rifkin writes, “All of life requires energy and sufficient power to maintain the rate of flow.” This energy requirement is true of animals, plants, ecosystems, and economies. A sufficient and reliable power supply is essential to economic productivity and is partially responsible for the explosion in human flourishing that we have experienced in the past 150 years. 

Unfortunately, many of our elected leaders are not tied to this essential reality. Case in point, President Joe Biden has officially rejoined the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, which will be a disaster for the national economy. The compact which President Donald Trump rightly withdrew the United States in 2017, imposed a goal of an almost 30 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2025 — an unrealistic benchmark that threatens to strangle our Covid-racked economy. 

The Paris agreement is a far-reaching agreement developed in 2015 requiring that developed nations slash their fossil fuel use, tighten greenhouse gas emission targets every five years, and become “carbon neutral” within a few decades. 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is set to be a cheerleader of this policy move. In 2017, Cooper signed an  open letter  to the international community declaring that our state was “still in” concerning the Paris climate agreement. By signing the letter, Gov. Cooper joined the U.S. Climate Alliance (USCA) – a group of 25 state and territorial governors who still wanted to adhere to the Paris agreement, even after President Trump removed the United States from the agreement. 

Gov. Cooper has written “North Carolina knows that clean air and energy innovation are good for our economy and health.” Unfortunately, the Paris Climate Agreement achieves neither. 

According to scientists supporting the climate deal, even if the U.S. and all other nations that took part in the agreement meet their obligations, increases in global temperatures will vary little from the anticipated increases if the deal were not in place. 

While the agreement’s positive environmental impact is nearly nonexistent, the negative economic consequences will be very real. A  2016 report  from the Heritage Foundation found that the U.S. adhering to the Paris Agreement would result in an overall loss of nearly 400,000 jobs, half of which would be manufacturing jobs. North Carolina’s economy would be especially hard hit because the state is heavily reliant on manufacturing. The manufacturing sector accounts for 10.36 percent of North Carolina’s workforce and 18.31 percent of its economic output. 

The Heritage report also found that the Paris Agreement would lead to an average total income loss of more than $20,000 for a family of four nationally and an aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) loss of more than $2.5 trillion.  

Reentering the Paris Agreement is not a recipe for national economic recovery. Adhering to and exceeding the Paris Protocols, as called for in Gov. Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan, is a recipe for economic stagnation in the Old North State.  

In his Executive Order No. 80, Gov. Cooper ordered that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) created a “Clean Energy Plan” (CEP) and directed that that plan reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels.  DEQ’s plan, published in October 2019, takes a particularly aggressive aim at the electrical power sector, which DEQ aims to decarbonize by 2050. Put another, more realistic way, the Cooper Administration’s Clean Energy Plan seeks to fully replace 44.65 percent of North Carolina’s electrical energy production with a finite list of renewable energy sources. Notice that the goal is not necessarily “clean energy” production in the “Clean Energy Plan,” instead, the CEP seeks to decarbonize and use renewable sources. Those are not necessarily the same goals. That is quite a shame considering there are two clean energy sources that are dispatchable and marketable now – nuclear and hydroelectric. Instead, the Cooper Administration is doubling down on more expensive renewable energy sources with deep corporate pockets and an army of lobbyists on Jones Street – solar, offshore wind, and biogas (methane collected from landfills, swine operations, and other sources). 

Of course, calls for increased investments in renewable energy always come with job creation claims; however, the data tells another tale.  

While constructing renewable energy facilities does create temporary jobs, it has cost and will cost North Carolina net jobs in the long-term. A 2015 report by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality) stated: “At higher rate impact levels, the job losses from higher total cost of electricity across the state may exceed the jobs gained through renewables development.” 

If our economy’s life is dependent on energy, then our current course of the Biden and Cooper administrations will be a death blow to untold numbers of jobs. North Carolina deserves a real energy plan, not a path designed to pander to “green” special interests. 

Donald Bryson is president and chief Strategy officer at the John Locke Foundation. 

This article originally appeared in the March print edition of the Carolina Journal.