Just in time for legislators’ ongoing discussion over rolling back renewable energy tax credits, environmentalists are pushing back. Hard. On Thursday, the nonprofit Environment N.C. and a couple of legislators, a Republican and a Democrat, released a report that touts North Carolina’s vast potential for solar energy production.

The report ranked the state fourth nationally for total solar electric capacity, and ninth per capita. This may come as a surprise, but only California, Arizona and New Jersey have more capacity for solar production today.

Don’t thank North Carolina’s omnipresent sunshine. Thank state leaders who rolled out a system of tax credits in 2008 that made solar development financially prudent.

“North Carolina’s pro-solar policies … have allowed us to become a national leader in the clean energy economy,” said Rachel Morales, clean energy organizer for Environment N.C., on Thursday. “Rather than undoing policies that are clearly working, we should be looking for additional ways to build on our solar success.”

It’s a timely discussion, and one often swallowed by the state’s ongoing budget mudslinging. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered North Carolina to slash its carbon emissions by 36 percent by 2030. The state needs ideas and renewable energy investment it would seem.

Yet some lawmakers say the state’s tax credit system is simply a drain on North Carolina’s coffers. According to the N.C. Department of Revenue, the credit, which can help to reduce the cost of solar array installation, helped generate more than $700 million in spending in the state last year.

It also cost the state about $126 million in potential tax revenues claimed last year under the credit. Still, 700 is greater than 126.

“We’ve seen a significant return on investment from policies like the renewable energy investment tax credit, so it makes sense to maintain these policies, and I remain determined that we will include an extension of this credit in our final budget,” said Rep. Charles Jeter, a Republican from Mecklenburg County. “As we see here today, clean energy is an issue that brings together Republicans, Democrats and Independents.”

Follow this closely.