Q&A with Senator Thom Tillis: Insights to American Clean Energy Innovation 

Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has long championed a comprehensive approach to energy policy. As CRESponsible Leader of the Month, he shared his insights with CRES on achieving U.S. energy independence through clean energy investments and commonsense policies. But don’t just take our word for it, hear it straight from him! 

Full Interview: 

1. Senator Tillis, you’ve established yourself as a leader on the right for an all-of-the-above energy portfolio. How do renewables like wind and solar complement traditional energy sources to benefit North Carolina and the rest of the country?  

“I have always been an advocate for an all-of-the-above approach to energy, dating back to my days in the North Carolina General Assembly. Democrats had unified control of state government in North Carolina when I first entered the legislature in 2007, and they were pushing to impose California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard on North Carolina. Although they didn’t need a single Republican vote, I went to the Speaker of the House and asked if he’d be willing to negotiate a compromise if I could get some Republicans on board. He agreed, and we implemented a standard that allowed North Carolina to become one of the Top 5 states for solar deployment in the country and the only state in the Southeast with a Renewable Portfolio Standard. After 17 years, that policy has aged well. North Carolina has grown the diversity of its energy portfolio while maintaining reliability and affordability and also being a national leader in population growth and manufacturing investment. The key takeaway from this case study is if you implement durable, bipartisan policy solutions that right-size regulations and provide utilities with the certainty they need, then different types of energy generation resources will be built where it makes sense. Heavy handed, overly prescriptive mandates often undermine their state goals in practice, and I am confident that’s what would have happened in North Carolina had we not worked out a bipartisan compromise back then.” 

2. As a member of Senate Finance, you can see firsthand the discussions surrounding tax credits for energy. Heading into next year, what are some ways our tax code can work to benefit more energy generation? 

“Fundamentally, the tax code should help keep our economy competitive and lower rates for hardworking American families. Structurally, taking a look at individual credits to determine whether there is or will be a return on that investment is crucial when it comes to making sound tax policy. For example, with the IRA, we should be having these conversations over return on investment and companies should be talking about their investments. I do not believe we should throw the baby out with the bath water, and some of the credits will be worth saving if they are generating a positive return on investment. We also should consider the need to provide the energy generation industry with certainty, and it is hard to do that when we keep changing the tax and incentive structure that affects business operations. At the end of the day, we want the energy generation industry to be the most competitive in the world, and when the tax code incentivizes business investment that’s what we get.” 

3. Energy generation is certainly a contributor to emissions. However, we have a greater understanding now than ever of emissions derived from the industrial sector. What role can the government play in fostering innovation in decarbonizing the industrial sector? 

“If you look at the data, it’s clear that the U.S. industrial manufacturing sector is the cleanest in the world. We must continue to invest in American innovation to keep U.S. companies competitive. This is especially important for hard-to-abate industries like cement and concrete, which is why I introduced the Concrete and Asphalt Innovation Act with Senator Chris Coons. This bill would fund low-emissions concrete and asphalt research, development, and design while leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government to provide American innovators with the market certainty they need to secure private capital and commercialize new technologies. The concrete and asphalt industries are already investing heavily in new technologies, and this bill would catalyze those investments and accelerate American innovation.” 

4. President Biden has taken a mandate-only approach to his Administration. For example, he recently released his Clean Power Plan 2.0. Can you discuss how mandates, like the Clean Power Plan, endanger our grid? Is there a better way to go about reducing emissions? 

“President Biden is mandating an energy transition that is simply not technologically feasible at the current pace. With more than 60,000 MW of dispatchable energy generation scheduled for retirement in the next five years, the Clean Power Plan 2.0 would expedite the rapid retirement of many baseload power sources while simultaneously preventing the construction of new, cleaner generation sources. While there are many promising new baseload generation technologies in the pipeline, like advanced nuclear, these things take time to commercialize and deploy. We simply cannot risk the reliability and affordability of the electric grid by mandating power plant closures without a concrete plan to bring new baseload generation online, especially as the country is facing unprecedented energy demand growth projections. 

5. North Carolina is one of the best places to work in the United States. How has the clean energy economy added jobs in your state and contributed to economic growth?  

“First and foremost, we enacted tax and regulatory policies that have served to make North Carolina our state the best place to do business in the country. That started when I became Speaker and we had to clean up from the Great Recession and has been carried through by a thoughtful legislature. We also have some of the best and brightest at our community colleges and universities to train the skilled workforce needed for advanced manufacturing jobs. We are turning out skilled workers at all levels of the supply chain, and industry has worked closely with our state and local communities to fund workforce programs that are key to staffing these major investments. From the Toyota battery plant in Liberty to the lithium mines in Cleveland and Gaston Counties, we have the full clean energy supply chain investing in North Carolina which creates a draw for other suppliers and venders in this space to look to North Carolina as place to invest.” 

Senator Thom Tillis’s leadership and vision in energy policy highlight the significance of an innovative and practical strategy for ensuring America’s energy future. 

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