Public forums to focus on state-forced loans from ratepayers and the need for competition as power industry changes rapidly
In a state where economic, energy and environmental concerns grow more intensely intertwined, the assertive environmental nonprofit group NC WARN is working with the conservative nonprofit John Locke Foundation to sponsor two public forums calling for increased competition in the electricity market.
The collaboration comes amid rapid changes in the U.S. electricity marketplace. NC WARN and the Locke Foundation agree that a more competitive market would help North Carolina electricity customers benefit from those changes.
The forums will be moderated by former NC Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, and will feature panel discussions involving business and consumer advocates about the impacts on customers of the Duke Energy monopoly.
Although the Locke Foundation and NC WARN diverge on many issues, they converge on support for increased electricity competition and the problems associated with so-called Construction Work in Progress rules. CWIP forces electric customers to pay the bills for construction of new power plants, even if those plants never come on line.
North Carolina is headquarters to Duke Energy – which claims to be the world’s largest corporate power company. Recent polling shows that North Carolina voters across the political spectrum overwhelmingly dislike being held captive in a monopoly electricity market that guarantees Duke a large profit for building power plants and raising rates.
NC WARN believes ratepayers lose and the state economy suffers if Duke Energy is allowed to continue that business model while protected against competition that would create downward pressure on prices.
The forums will explore why Duke is allowed to fence off North Carolina from changes underway across the U.S. power industry, which is moving away from construction of giant power plants and toward smaller-scale, on-site generation by businesses and homeowners using natural gas, solar and other technologies.
Power industry leaders including Duke’s former CEO Jim Rogers warn that monopoly utilities risk extinction if they don’t evolve alongside market trends. NC WARN says competition and distributed generation seem destined to move past Duke’s monopolistic blockade in North Carolina. The group asks, how much pain will ratepayers and the state economy be forced to suffer along the way?
Meanwhile, the monopoly rate shocks will surge if Duke succeeds in forcing captive North Carolina customers to absorb the well-proven financial risks of trying to build nuclear power plants. CWIP, or “advance payment” legislation is already hammering Georgia and South Carolina – and Florida, where customers are being forced to pay $1.5 billion for a Levy County nuclear plant Duke Energy cancelled even before construction began.
Duke has publicly insisted that it will not attempt to build nuclear plants in the Carolinas unless North Carolina’s legislature passes such legislation.