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Legislative Activities: Renewable Energy Sources

26 August 2016


Recently, there has been debate over energy sources.  Some states are continuing to prioritize economic expansion through traditional energy sources, like oil, coal, and natural gas, over implementation of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power.

Other states are passing legislation to mandate renewable energy implementation. The tradeoff between clean energy and new jobs, and traditional energy and keeping current jobs, has been debated in state legislatures, yielding different results.

There has been a shift toward renewable on the federal level. President Barack Obama approved the 2017 budget which allocated funds to promoting clean energy technology programs.

Obama said that “America must foster the spirit of innovation to create jobs, build a climate-smart economy of the future, and protect the only planet we have.”

The budget aims to double the investment in renewable energy research and development to $12.8 billion by 2021. The president argues that the investment in and development of renewable energy is a worthwhile expense that will create jobs.

In terms of state legislation, there have been several actions taken and bills passed, falling on both sides of the debate over energy sources. And as with all legislation, there are opponents and supporters.

The North Carolina Senate has recently passed HB 763, a bill that prohibits the creation of wind farms in military low-flight zones.  These military training zones “cover almost all of central and eastern North Carolina,” and lawmakers want to prohibit wind farms to protect the military interest in the state.

Senator Norm Sanderson said “you cannot take a third of your largest economic driver in the state and throw it under the bus.” This is what the senator believes could happen if the state allows tall structures like wind farms to be built in zones the Department of Defense uses for training zones, and the military plays a large role in North Carolina’s economy.

Opponents say that the bill will make it harder for wind energy programs to be built. “The proposed legislation adds unnecessary complexity and uncertainty for businesses navigating the wind permitting process,” said Melissa Dickerson with the state Sierra club.

Governor Pat McCrory has not voiced his opposition or support of the bill, but it has passed both the House and the Senate.

Hawai’i Governor David Ige did the opposite, signing a memorandum of agreement with the Department of the Navy to work on energy issues of mutual benefit, coordinate their goals, and build partnerships.

Like North Carolina, the Department of Defense is also a big contributor to Hawaii's economy, with the Department of the Navy being the largest consumer of electric utilities in the state. Both Hawaii and the Navy have goals of increasing use of renewable energy, and believe that by combining resources, they can attain these goals.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has signed S 260, a bill that improves energy planning and increases community input in the process, into law.

"This new law provides a roadmap for how we continue to transform our energy system in Vermont while improving opportunities for our communities to have a say in the process,” Shumlin said.

The bill provides measures for improving growth of renewable energy, as well as acknowledging that Vermont citizens would like input in the process of this growth. Vermont has pledged to obtain 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and involving the citizens will help ease this process.

However, many lawmakers are opposed to the bill, not because of the provisions of the bill, but because the governor had vetoed another bill, S 230, that passed through the legislature with nearly identical text. Representative Don Turner said that the bill is a “bipartisan bill that passed with a unanimous vote in the House,” and was angry it was vetoed because of the time and effort lawmakers and lobbies put into developing the bill.  

In another approach, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is turning to traditional nonrenewable energy sources to create more jobs. Wolf was recently notified by Shell that the company would build a new “ethane cracker plant” in Western Pennsylvania. The plant will take oil and gas and break it into smaller molecules, creating ethylene which is used in plastics manufacturing, according to NPR.

Governor Wolf says that the project will create jobs, spur economic development, and connect the energy-industry with long-term, sustainable growth. Wolf wants to use Pennsylvania’s abundant resources of natural gas to make the state a leader in energy development. According to Wolf, the project will create thousands of jobs and is in the economic interests of the state.

The Clean Air Council is appealing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to grant Shell an air permit. Joe Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, said that “Shell and DEP missed an opportunity to ensure residents are adequately protected from this large source of pollution,” which can include nitrous oxides, smog, and sulfur dioxides.

Use of renewable energy sources is definitely a contentious issue in some states, with some passing legislation, and other states’ governors taking things into their own hands and signing agreements having to do with energy. There are potential job opportunities and economic growth on both sides of this issue.

Leveraging economic development and energy is going to be a significant policy issue, on state and national level, for years to come.

Madison Comstock is a student  at The University of Texas at Austin and a Public Relations major. She is currently interning with Vote Smart in the Key Votes Department. For more information on internship opportunities with Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.


Related tags: blog, environment, renewable-energy, state-legislation

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