In case our state's self-proclaimed "pro-business" lawmakers doubt that clean energy is important to the state's business leaders, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters decided to help them out. Last week, the NCLCV convened a panel of North Carolina entrepreneurs at N.C. State's JC Raulston Arboretum to discuss the benefits of the federal Clean Power Plan to the state's industries.
"Climate change is arguably the greatest crisis that our nation and our whole world faces," said Maria Kingery, CEO of Morrisville solar and energy efficiency company Southern Energy Management at a roundtable discussion at N.C. State's JC Raulston Arboretum. "There's a perception that this is bad for business, but I think clean energy is the greatest business opportunity of our time."
She says North Carolina's leaders, including Governor McCrory and senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, are "missing the boat."
The two other panelists—Eric Henry, president of sustainable T-shirt company TS Designs, and Beth Stewart, the head of sustainable fashion nonprofit Redress Raleigh—spoke about the challenges they face in making the state's traditional textiles industry more energy efficient and the role government plays.
Henry wants government to focus on big, long-term issues—like climate change—and leave short-term decisions to businesses.
"I see government as a partner," Henry said. "I want it to look way out there, at where do we want to be one hundred years out? I don't want it to be in the sandbox with us, only making decisions that matter six months from now."
Recently, North Carolina's legislature has dealt a series of blows to clean energy. It let lapse the state's tax credit for renewable energy investments, and a bill to curtail the state's renewable energy portfolio standards keeps popping up—and is expected to do so again in this spring's legislative session. Those two policies have been credited with making North Carolina a solar leader in the Southeast.
"Tax credits and incentives level the playing field here, in a regulated monopoly state, as far as where our power comes from," Kingery said. "We're legally not allowed to compete with the utilities, so we have to partner with them to provide our service. So incentives are a really important way for us to be able to compete in the marketplace." Still, she added, regardless of what the legislature does, clean energy is here to stay.
Stewart added that you, citizen, can pick up the legislature's slack simply by changing how you shop for clothes.
"Buy from consignment stores or vintage," she said. "Buy locally, because it's usually from a smaller company and hasn't traveled around the world. Never, ever buy fast fashion. Look at the tags on your clothes to see where they're made. And ask questions of the big companies, because the more questions they get, eventually, they'll have to start responding."