photo with markham 060417 (copy)

The Amazon wind farm in eastern North Carolina.

GREENSBORO — Legislators from North Carolina and South Carolina told a clean energy group Tuesday the two states should work together in developing new, better and more innovative ways to distribute the benefits of solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis urged the nonprofit groups Conservatives for Clean Energy and Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy to consider what the two states might accomplish in tandem.

“I’d like to explore North Carolina and South Carolina doing things together,” said Davis, a Republican from Beaufort, S.C., noting that goals would include “breaking down territorial monopolies” to benefit residential customers and businesses of all types.

In a panel discussion during the nonprofits’ annual gathering at Proximity Hotel, Davis found much in common with his North Carolina GOP counterparts, state Rep. Larry Strickland, whose district includes parts of Harnett and Johnston counties, and Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville.

All said the grip maintained on energy markets by such regulated utilities as Duke Energy and South Carolina Electric & Gas has worked to inflate costs for ratepayers. At the same time, they said, it has restrained the growth and customer benefits that renewable energy could bestow in an environment less dominated by such agencies as the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the Public Service Commission of South Carolina.

“We can come up with a plan that is good for the state of North Carolina and the ratepayers,” said Strickland, who added that solar farms had been invaluable in making it financially feasible for families in his urbanizing, once-rural district to retain their agricultural lands.

Solar, wind and other clean energy innovations have a reputation for attracting support from those whose politics lean left. But Szoka said there was nothing conservative about the current status quo where market forces are held back by a regulatory system with its roots in the 1930s.

“I’m on the side of innovation and free markets,” Szoka said, adding that the “highly controlled monopolies” that run the industry today are approaching “a tipping point” where change is imminent.

“Their best days are behind them and I think we need something else,” he said.

Conservatives for Clean Energy was founded five years ago to spread the word about the economic and other benefits of solar power, wind energy, the smart grid, energy storage and continuing advances in related technologies. The group is headquartered in Raleigh and also has chapters in South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy is a nationwide group that helps local chambers of commerce promote and expand sources of renewable energy in their communities.

The groups put a spotlight on the Greensboro Transit Agency this year for its commitment to becoming the state’s first system to field an all-electric bus fleet.

“We plan to maximize the word ‘green’ in Greensboro,” Assistant City Manager Kim Sowell said.

She noted GTA already has 13 battery-electric buses in regular service and said that in a week or so, “we expect to get three more.”

The clean-energy groups host their annual meeting and awards ceremony in Greensboro each year because of its central location. Their yearly event has found a home at the Proximity partly because of the hotel’s energy-saving profile.

The hotel on Green Valley Road is among North Carolina’s most energy-efficient buildings. It was the nation’s first hotel to receive “platinum green” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for innovations that provide thousands of dollars in energy savings every year.

Award recipients at Tuesday’s gathering included two N.C. Republican officeholders, Strickland and state Sen. Rick Horner, who represents Johnston and Nash counties. Horner and Strickland received the “Clean Energy Legislative Leadership Award.”

For business leadership in promoting clean energy, the groups recognized Fifth Third Bank, Ingersoll Rand and Mad Mole Brewing Co. of Wilmington.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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