- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Conservative Southern lawmakers on Tuesday moved to extend the growth of renewable energy in North Carolina, just days after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would exit the Paris climate agreement because curbing fossil fuels would hamper the economy.

State House members introduced legislation negotiated between the country’s largest electric company and renewable energy interests. Charlotte-based Duke Energy said the proposed legislation would save consumers $850 million over 10 years in what it would pay for renewable energy.

Renewable energy groups say the measure extends the utility’s requirement to use more solar and biofuels power. Businesses and homeowners could avoid big upfront costs by leasing rooftop solar panels from installers instead of buying. State utilities regulators will study rooftop solar owners selling their excess power to the grid.

But one conservative critic said an effect of the legislation would be requiring electric utilities to subsidize solar energy.

“Every time all the ‘stakeholders,’ and I put that in quotation marks, get together and decide something is good, usually everybody else pays for it,” said Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative advocacy group. “The ratepayers are going to be the ones on the hook for all their grand plans.”

The compromise legislation passed reviews by two committees Tuesday. It has the backing of House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican.

The bill comes as renewable energy becomes increasingly mainstream and inexpensive. Almost 1,000 clean-energy companies around North Carolina employed about 34,000 full-time workers last year, a 31 percent increase over the previous year, according to an annual survey by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

“Nothing in energy policy is easy. But we’ve got, I believe, in here, enough checks and balances to protect ratepayers,” said Rep. John Szoka, a Fayetteville Republican who is one of the measure’s chief sponsors.

The legislation could face a vote by the full House later this week. That’s where the proposal could face pushback from climate-change skeptics in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Some legislators who view the growth of solar and wind energy as the result of an inefficient boondoggle want to drop a requirement that Duke Energy generate 12.5 percent of the electricity it sells from renewable sources by 2021. The U.S. now gets about 13 percent of its electricity from renewable energy.

North Carolina Republicans, who hold veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers, have not criticized Trump’s decision last week to back out of the Paris climate deal. That agreement to reduce Earth-heating emissions was struck last year by then-President Barack Obama along with nearly every other country in the world.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors and nine governors have denounced Trump’s decision and pledged to uphold the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, added his name to the list Tuesday. At an international clean-energy conference Tuesday in Beijing, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement for his state and China to work together on reducing emissions.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio

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