By John Downey
Connection to the power grid is perhaps the most persistent issue between solar developers and Duke Energy Corp., although none of those disputes have risen to the level of antitrust allegations.
But Chris Carmody, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Business Association, says it is another effort by the Charlotte-based company to use its legal monopoly in retail power sales to choke competition in what are supposed to be competitive wholesale markets.
“Duke is by its nature anticompetitive,” he says.
Duke denies trying to prevent competition where it operates.
“Duke Energy has like 3,000 megawatts connected to its grid and we only own 200 of that,” says spokesman Randy Wheeless.
“We are working very hard on our interconnection process. We know we’ve got work to do,” he adds. “When you look at who’s connected, solar developers are doing very well with Duke.”
Still, concern about competition for energy production in the Carolinas has now led to a call by legislators in both states to consider broad utility reform.
It is at the state commission level that most of these cases have remained, says Hamilton Davis of Southern Current, a solar developer in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We have been working with Duke for years on (interconnection) queue reform,” he says. But that has been unsuccessful. “The conversation that is gaining traction in the Carolinas is market reform involving regional transmission operators to address the issues and tensions between monopoly utilities and independent producers.”
RTOs are independent operators who run the power grid for specific regions. They grew to prominence in the 1990s when power industry deregulation was pursued by many states. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission saw them as the best regulatory authority to enforce new rules on equal access to power lines.
The idea has been shot down more than once in the Carolinas. A handful of Republican legislators in both states are now trying to resurrect the idea.
Rep. Larry Strickland has introduced legislation for such a regional organization in the N.C. House. A press conference is planned for Thursday in Charlotte with S.C. Sens. Tom Davis and Wes Climer to detail such proposals for increasing competition in the electricity sector to deliver low-cost energy and bolster economic development in the Carolinas.