Representative Chuck McGrady is an important environmental figure in North Carolina legislature. Here he discusses his perspective of the solar industry as a Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly.
United Solar Initiative: Can you discuss your advocacy for the environment despite being a Republican in the House? What issues do you regularly face?
Chuck McGrady: Republicans, over the last two decades, don’t have a very good reputation in terms of environmental protection. But I view protecting the air and water as really conservative issues. I mean it’s about leaving the place as good or better than you received it for future generations, and that sounds pretty conservative to me. And so, my work has involved a lot of environmental work. I think it’s noteworthy that I am sometimes not voting with the majority of my Republican colleges on a lot of environmental legislation that comes along, but when something really big occurs, for example, the large coal ash spill into the Dan River about a year and a half ago, then the Speaker and leadership in the House, in turn, can craft the legislation to manage the coal ash issue and lead paths first in the nation to pass coal ash legislation. And I’ve been able to slowly bring along my colleagues. And I’m making the case for Republicans needing to be about protecting air, water, and land, and so I’ve gained some credibility with my colleagues and I’ve been able to do more work in that area.
USI: Why do you think the environment is such a partisan issue, and do you think there is anything that can be done to change that?
McGrady: I think it’s sort of a historical anomaly. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the environment was a bipartisan issue. But beginning with President Reagan and two President Bushs, the leadership of the party was with western Republicans. And frankly, these issues break down east to west more than republican to democratic. But, when the party was being lead by western Republicans, they didn’t share the same views as their eastern colleges. In the east, we’ve got cities, and we’ve learned through time that when you’ve got a lot of people along a river you have to learn how to protect your water source and deal with your waste- solid waste, sewage, or something else. In the west, you don’t have that issue, so the focus in more on extractive industries of various types- mining and whatnot. So I think the party has sort of lost its focus on the issue, and the Democrats were opportunists that picked up the issue and were actually able to use the issue effectively in the debate over politics. I’ve always been hoping to change that, so that’s been a goal for several decades now.
I think that Republicans ought to be perhaps more willing to approach these issues in a non-regulatory fashion, and would be something consistent with their conservative philosophies. And I would hope that Democrats and Republicans can agree to protect the air and water and the only debate would be on how we can do that.
USI: Is there anything you would like to discuss about the expiration of the North Carolina tax credit on solar?
McGrady: Well I lost that battle. I was a strong supporter of renewing the solar tax credits. We got a slight extension, meaning that projects that were begun before the end of the year will continue to receive the tax credit. I don’t have big hopes for being able to put it back in place. Philosophically, my colleagues don’t like these types of tax credits, and have been slowly but surely been trying to do away with a whole range of tax credits of the same sort. And this year we just weren’t capable of extending it.
USI: Do you think there was anything that could’ve been done to prevent this?
McGrady: Politics is about relationships. A large number of my colleagues obviously didn’t view the tax credits as valuable enough to keep in place. If you could go back two or three years, my push would’ve been to have the supporters of the tax credits, be it solar, wind, or other renewables, spend more time building relationships with my colleagues and getting them out and showing them what was being done on the ground. I think there was some amount of misinformation about the tax credits and how they were being used.
USI: Why solar?
McGrady: It’s a clean source of energy. So, for example, we’re not dealing with coal where you’ve got coal ash, or with nuclear where you’ve got a waste stream that will last in/for perpetuity. Most other types of energy have air quality or water quality impacts. That’s generally not true of solar. One could argue it takes metal, glass, and wiring to create a solar panel, but its overall impact on the environment is much less than other sources. And as it becomes a financially viable alternative, I think it needs to be a part of the mix. I think as we improve our battery capacity, solar and other renewables will become even more important. So I see a really good future for solar, even if we suffered a bit of a setback with the failure to renew the solar tax credit.
Article: Meredith Ratledge