By Ned Barnett
Editorial Page Editor
When offered a handshake in greeting last week, Jim Warren held out his left hand. He said his right was sore because of overuse on his computer.
It seemed appropriate to find Warren nursing an injury. The man is by vocation a scrapper who for years has taken on one of the biggest powers in North Carolina – its electric utilities. Through NC WARN, the Durham-based advocacy group he leads, Warren has fought Duke Power and Progress Energy over rate hikes, new plants and nuclear safety. Now, with the state’s two major utilities freshly merged into Duke Energy, he’s up against the nation’s biggest electric utility.
Last week, Warren should have been gearing up for battle after North Carolina regulators upheld a 7.2 percent rate increase for Duke Energy’s customers. The N.C. Utilities Commission dismissed concerns raised by the state Supreme Court in response to a challenge to the rate hike by state Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Cooper said he would repeat his appeal, adding it to three other appeals he has under way against utility rate hikes. But Warren, while opposed to the increases, is looking beyond those technical disputes. Indeed, the champion of consumer rights and public safety said he no longer wants to fight the power company. Now he wants to join forces with it to reduce global warming. Warren’s change in attitude arises from his concern about the change in climate. He thinks global warming is happening faster than we realize and that the risk of letting carbon emissions fill the atmosphere to the point of natural catastrophe is “white-knuckle terrifying.”
That fear has moved the warrior to seek peace and an alliance with the utility. His pitch is that utilities face a “death spiral” and they need to go green now to save themselves and help save the planet, beginning with the Carolinas.
What he’s telling utility executives is, “We want to find a way to quit fighting and work with you to de-carbonize the Carolinas.” Enlisting the resources and reach of Duke Energy, he said, “could make a huge difference because they’re so big.”