The North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh. Credit: Elizabeth Ouzts / Energy News Network

Sen. Bill Rabon said the measure won’t be heard in his committee before lawmakers end their 2019 session. 

The North Carolina Senate is sidelining a bill that would have required the state government to cut its energy consumption.

House Bill 330 passed the House of Representatives in April with only two dissenting votes. It would increase an energy savings target for state government buildings from 30% by 2015 to 40% by 2025. 

The new goal was expected to spur hundreds of millions of dollars in lighting replacements, HVAC improvements, and other building upgrades, saving taxpayers $1.1 billion in energy costs.

“This is not a mandate to spend money,” bill author Rep. John Szoka, a Republican from Fayetteville, told his colleagues on the House floor. “This is a mandate to save money.”

But Sen. Paul Newton, a Republican from Cabarrus County, said H330 wasn’t needed to promote energy conservation. “A legislative mandate isn’t required in order for that to be successful,” he told the Energy News Network this week.

Clean energy advocates acknowledge some energy efficiency programs would move forward without the legislation, in part because of a 1994 law enabling “performance contracting” for government entities, in which energy services companies commit to annual savings that pay for building upgrades over time.

But they say the only way to guarantee net returns to taxpayers of more than a quarter-billion dollars is to build on the state’s existing mandate for energy conservation.

“We’ve had the program. It’s been successful,” said Ryan Miller, the executive director of the North Carolina Building Performance Association. “Why wouldn’t we want to extend it if it’s working?”

Asked if he opposed H330 outright, Newton — a frequent arbiter of energy policy in the Senate and former Duke Energy president — demurred. But he left the measure out when he bundled a number of energy-related bills into one piece of legislation approved by the General Assembly earlier this week

“It very clearly ignores [H]330 and energy efficiency altogether,” Miller said. “It’s not ‘omnibus’ clean energy.”

As lawmakers press to finish their work for the 2019 long session — with senators proposing a monthlong break in regular business — H330 is now poised to languish. 

“It won’t be heard this session,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican from Brunswick County who chairs the powerful rules committee, where the bill has been lodged for months.

During an interview after what he called “not the last, but one of the last” meetings of the committee this session, Rabon indicated the panel would focus on other duties such as appointments to boards and commissions. “We’re not doing any more policy,” he said.

More than a dozen energy-efficiency businesses such as Cree and Siemens, along with their trade groups, had tried to persuade Rabon otherwise, sending him and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger an eleventh-hour plea for action.

“As large employers, major energy consumers, and trade associations, we understand firsthand how North Carolina’s energy policies affect the cost of doing business and the state’s economic competitiveness,” the companies wrote in a July 1 letter. “North Carolina consumers and businesses benefit when we eliminate energy waste.”

The companies also talked up H330’s bipartisan appeal, pointing out that an energy advisory panel chaired by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has twice recommended increasing the state’s energy-savings goal to 40%. The bill’s projected savings, they wrote, could “[free] up funds that could be reinvested in government services, lower taxes, or additional energy projects.”

But unless Rabon and Newton change course, the companies will have to press these points again during the 2020 session, when H330 will still be eligible for consideration. “It’s not dead,” Rabon offered.

Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Elizabeth has covered the state’s clean energy transition for the Energy News Network since 2016. She has also produced features for Environmental Health News and SEJournal, the news magazine of the Society of Environmental Journalists. A former communications director for the nonprofit Environment America, Elizabeth brings over two decades of environmental and energy policy experience to her reporting.