Gov. Roy Cooper deserves the praise he’s been getting for his enlightened energy policy.
Unlike some other high-profile politicians in Washington and Raleigh, Cooper believes the threat from climate change is real, and he’s trying to make North Carolina a leader in sensible clean-energy policy.
Too bad his Department of Revenue doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.
In August, Cooper’s Department of Environmental Quality released its draft Clean Energy Plan, spelling out how the state hopes to promote cleaner, alternative energy and help combat the threats from climate change. North Carolina has had plenty of first-hand experience with those threats recently: Just look at what happened across much of the state when Hurricane Florence struck last year, or at the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Dorian that Ocracoke Island is still struggling with.
Cooper is a strong supporter of alternative energy sources that can help reduce greenhouse gases, and in the last few years, solar and wind energy projects have flourished in the state.
But a policy of Cooper’s Department of Revenue could have a chilling effect on that progress.
For about two decades, North Carolina used tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to invest in renewable energy partnerships. Investors could get tax credits as high as 35 percent on money they invested in various clean energy projects. The credits had to be taken in five equal installments.
That particular program ended in 2016, but investors who had projects in progress could keep taking the credits until they had used them up. Some people involved in solar projects created partnerships not only with energy companies but also with banks, insurance companies and other institutions that essentially bought the tax credits.
Then last fall, the Revenue Department said it wasn’t going to allow the tax credits in some of those partnership deals that had been used to pay for solar energy projects.
Suddenly, investors who been important in the development of the state’s solar farms stood to lose as much as $500 million.
Cooper is known to be a strong supporter of alternative energy. That’s good. But even as his Department of Environmental Quality is pushing an ambitious plan that will need the cooperation of business, industry and the state legislature, his Department of Revenue is taking a stance that’s likely to scare away potential investors in future renewable energy projects.
The Revenue Department is relying on what critics call an extremely narrow interpretation of the law defining partnerships. The department said it follows the federal tax code, which doesn’t allow the sort of “pass through” arrangement the solar farms had used to finance their projects.
But North Carolina’s tax code can differ from the federal one when state laws differ from federal laws. By insisting on this narrow view, the Revenue Department is in effect making policy, a policy that’s not that of the governor and that also seems to go against the intent of the General Assembly and a recent state Supreme Court ruling involving the IRS code.
The Revenue Department is also unfairly changing the rules on investors who acted in good faith, in a move that will make it tough for future clean-energy projects here to find financial backing.
The Revenue Department is a part of Cooper’s administration just as surely as the Department of Environmental Quality is.
Cooper should do what it takes to get the Revenue Department on board with his ambitious clean energy proposals.