Duke Energy flexing its corporate muscle against Big Biz and public support for Republican-led Energy Freedom Bill
Statement by Executive Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – For the second time in recent weeks, voters across North Carolina’s political spectrum have signaled overwhelming support for solar power and the right to competition instead of remaining captive to Duke Energy’s monopoly. A poll conducted last week shows that by more than five-to-one, voters “support legislation to allow customers to buy power directly from solar companies.”
Such competition is at the heart of a bill introduced last week by Representative John Szoka (R-Cumberland) and backed by a bipartisan list of 30 sponsors and cosponsors. Duke Energy’s squad of staff and contract lobbyists is vigorously clubbing away at the legislation. The bill threatens the corporation’s very business model, which is based on holding the public and regulators captive as it pursues a “build power plants, raise rates” approach.
Distributed generation technologies like rooftop solar are rapidly changing the nation’s electric power landscape that was long dominated by monopolies with guaranteed profits. Studies show that solar growth actually helps all regional customers by knocking down the utility argument for continually raising rates to build more power plants.
A host of big businesses anchored by Wal-Mart is also backing the Energy Freedom Bill (HB 245) that promotes what’s called third-party sales, under which well-financed, qualified companies install solar power systems on customers’ property for little or no up-front cost, then sell them the electricity at a fixed, long-term rate that’s usually lower than the price charged by the utility.
Over two dozen states are benefitting from third-party sales legislation, while only five – including North Carolina – attempt to prohibit such competition. Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are moving toward allowing third-party solar in defiance of the wishes of Duke and other major utilities.
A February poll commissioned by Conservatives for Clean Energy showed a whopping 82 percent of Republican voters support policies allowing renewable energy choices. The latest poll shows that 69 percent of voters want to be allowed to purchase power directly from solar companies. It was conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by NC WARN.
The fight over solar was highlighted earlier this month by a Washington Post exposé showing that monopoly utilities coordinated a scheme to protect their market control and profits by adding taxes for customers choosing rooftop solar. When that approach failed in several states, the corporations shifted to targeting politically appointed regulators – “public” utilities commissions – to help thwart the burgeoning growth of solar.
Duke seems to have been caught off-guard by the Energy Freedom Bill, and is swinging wildly to confuse legislators and the media about third-party sales.
This legislation could be an extremely positive game-changer that breaks Duke’s monopoly clench over customer rates and leads to a desperately needed decarbonizing of the state’s electricity supply.