Gov. Roy Cooper announced the appointment of Peter Ledford to take over as his Clean Energy Director. Ledford previously worked for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. Ledford replaces Dionne Delli-Gatti, who left for another position. 

The clean energy director role was initially created for Delli-Gatti, who first was Cooper’s appointee to lead the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) until the North Carolina Senate blocked her appointment. Opting to accept Cooper’s second appointment, Secretary Elizabeth Biser, the North Carolina Senate assured that administrative bureaucracy within DEQ would be reasonably overhauled and improved and that good policy would be placed above ideology. Biser demonstrated her ability to work across the aisle and put good policy over politics during her confirmation process, something Delli-Gatti was unable to do. With Biser’s appointment, Cooper showed he could choose policy over politics when he wanted to or when the process of checks and balances forced his hand. 

In creating this clean energy director role after Delli-Gatti’s failed appointment as DEQ Secretary and continuing the trend of appointing renewable energy ideologues, Cooper continues to cause concern that he is selecting political appointees who will choose ideological politics over policy, thus undermining bipartisan efforts around energy policy that were successful in the last long-session. 

As the News and Observer reported, “… Ledford has become one of the state’s most outspoken advocates for renewable energy sources like solar and wind.” But will he be an outspoken advocate for ratepayers in his new role? Time will tell in how he advocates for North Carolina’s energy transition. 

The presumption made by many on the left is that a clean energy solution to reduce carbon requires all renewables, all the time. That is false.  

When considering North Carolina’s energy law as passed in House Bill 951, the state’s pathways to carbon reduction, while fuel-source agnostic, must be reliable and at least cost. Going all-in on renewables produces neither. A reliable, least-cost path to reduce carbon utilizes baseload, dispatchable energy sources. Massive amounts of grid modifications required by adding a surfeit of renewable energy would never be a least-cost option anytime soon. 

Advocating for North Carolinian ratepayers and our state’s energy transition within the letter of the law should be part of the framework that the Cooper administration considers. Unfortunately, we are continuously seeing red flags emerging from the governor’s office that the implementation of H.B. 951 may violate the law created by the General Assembly by putting ideology over policy. 

The General Assembly crafted a sound energy policy for our state—an approach that other states could replicate as the fiscally responsible response to the costly Green New Deal—but that may be undermined by left-wing environmental ideology getting in the way.

What is occurring in North Carolina around energy policy is happening nationwide. We are presented with the false dichotomy of choosing either the Green New Deal or climate denial. It does not have to be that way. North Carolina created a middle way between this dichotomy. 

To continue this middle way requires ideological extremes on either side of the spectrum to consider that good policy makes good politics. 

Conservatives must be at the table to overcome this dichotomy. That means Republicans must also overcome ideological blocks about the environment and energy. Conserving the environment and our natural resources is a conservative issue—it’s literally at the root of the word. Republicans can stay true to their broader principles and address these matters. Likewise, to do that, Democrats and those on the environmental left need to be willing to come to the table with conservatives and Republicans to create commonsense solutions that do not make our energy infrastructure too costly and unreliable, or create unrealistic, unnecessary environmental regulations. 

We can create a strong clean energy economy and find reasonable environmental solutions moving forward for North Carolina. The bipartisan approval of H.B. 951 demonstrated it is possible. It just requires us to continue putting good policy over politics. 

AndrĂ© BĂ©liveau is the strategic projects and government affairs manager at the John Locke Foundation. He is an M.A. in government candidate at Johns Hopkins University and previously served as a policy advisor in the North Carolina Senate.