The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

UNC students to lobby legislature with environmental demands

Students Working for Environmental Action and Transformation, a committee in the Campus Y, is leading the effort in collaboration with UNC Sierra Student Coalition, the Epsilon Eta environmental honors fraternity and UNC’s GlobeMed.

The petition’s demands include adopting renewable power policies, increasing access to farmer’s markets, expanding solar rights, reversing approval of hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina, cleaning up coal ash and finding a better waste-disposal location.

“We wanted to show that there is a front of students that want to be involved in political activism, that they care and know what’s going on in the Senate and the House,” said Sandrine Charles, co-chairwoman of SWEAT.

The “expand solar rights” section of the petition asks the legislature to pass the Energy Freedom Act, which would expand solar energy opportunities by allowing third-party sales. North Carolina is one of a handful of states that does not currently allow that.

Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, spoke to students at UNC on Thursday about the bill. He said he currently has 30 co-sponsors and that about 25 percent of the House supports his proposal.

The state has a robust system of tax credits that help defray the cost of solar panel installations — but the beneficiaries currently don’t include the military, UNC-system schools or state agencies. Individuals and private companies receive a 35 percent state tax credit and a 30 percent federal tax credit.

Szoka’s bill would allow UNC to partner with an outside company that would own solar panels installed at UNC. The company would sell energy to UNC and get tax benefits for the panels, which would allow them to offer the University a cheaper rate.

“UNC has the money to buy renewable energy and wants to, but it is just not cost-effective right now,” said Spencer Nelson, co-chairman of the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, which work to promote renewable energy on campus.

The bill also includes military bases, which are required to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Nelson said they need third-party sales to meet the deadline.

“The bill should be a nonpartisan issue, with conservatives supporting deregulation, and consumer choice in energy providers, while liberals are supporting cheap, renewable energy,” Nelson said. “Both sides support the N.C. solar industry.”

The bill’s primary opposition comes from Duke Energy, the main public utility that N.C. public institutions and military bases purchase energy from and one of the most powerful lobbying interests in the state. Nelson said the bill would largely eliminate the need to purchase from Duke Energy.

“We have a reasonable chance, it has broad bipartisan support,” Nelson said. “It really just depends on what kind of opposition Duke Energy brings to the table.”


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