Utilities Commission needs to seek truth and data instead of allowing a fossil-fueled utility to undermine NC’s growing solar industry
Statement by Executive Director Jim Warren:
The decade-long Duke Energy campaign to slow-walk renewable power took a predictable turn last week as the monopoly corporation misled regulators and news media in a master-stroke of corporate weasel-wording. A press release about its new scheme to undermine rooftop solar power that was filed November 29th with the NC Utilities Commission signaled again that Duke leaders cannot make their case honestly and expect to win.
Some news outlets correctly reported that Duke Energy’s proposed overhaul of net metering rules would lower payments to solar homeowners for the excess power they put onto the grid. But beyond that, Duke’s claims and calculations got lost amid blazing propaganda.
NC WARN, Appalachian Voices and 31 other nonprofits have long criticized Duke’s scheme because it would limit access to solar among non-affluent North Carolinians. And because it would help justify the corporate business plan to greatly expand fracked gas-fired power generation by allowing just enough solar power to feed the corporate greenwashing machine but not seriously alter Duke’s energy mix.
SUPPORT FROM “RENEWABLES ORGANIZATIONS”: Duke implies broad backing for its proposal by clean energy advocates. But only five organizations are openly endorsing it and four of them are among those who quietly negotiated a nearly identical scheme with Duke in South Carolina 15 months ago, at which time they became contractually bound to support the same plan in NC. The 33 pro-solar organizations noted above oppose it, based on months of analysis by legal and technical experts that included discussions with the plan’s proponents.
DUKE IMPLIES SOLAR FOR LOW-INCOME FOLKS: In attempting to mute the strongest objection aired by critics, Duke Energy’s press release cleverly implies that a key plus for the new scheme is that it actually would help low-income Duke customers: “The agreement reflects … inclusion of a low-income solar program to be designed …”. But a careful reading reveals that the filing includes no provision to help low-income customers. The press statement refers to a pledge by Duke to consider adding a low-income component at some undefined future date.
That pledge was made because Duke Energy knows the economics of its complicated scheme won’t work for small and modest-sized homes and solar systems. They knew that a year ago, but instead of proposing a plan that actually would work for all customers, they simply pretend they have done so.
SUNSHINE AT DARK: Solar homeowners would get the most credit for electricity they feed onto the grid during windows of 6-9 pm in the summer and 6-9 am in the winter. Most fourth-graders know that little solar power is produced during those windows.
The plan would add a flat monthly fee for homes adding solar, and lower the price paid for their excess power by up to two-thirds from the current retail kilowatt-hour rate.
WHO GETS SUBSIDIZED? Duke’s release repeatedly refers to fairness, alluding to US utilities’ long but debunked claim that rooftop solar customers don’t pay their fair share of grid expenses, creating a “cost shift” onto other customers.
But NC WARN engineer Bill Powers found that the very consultant used by proponents of the same net metering proposal in South Carolina had testified earlier in a separate SC case that there was no such cost shift. Moreover, studies in other states show that net metering provides a benefit to non-solar customers by adding low-cost power to the grid, particularly during periods of peak demand.
TRUE VALUE OF SOLAR: Duke Energy cites its own “study” showing solar homeowners get paid too much for the excess solar they put on the grid. But corporate officials refuse to share data so that others can review it. Also, they oppose a thorough and independent study of the value of solar that NC WARN and Appalachian Voices have called for the NCUC to order.
If Duke Energy leaders and other proponents have a defensible reason to overhaul North Carolina’s rooftop solar rules – jeopardizing the industry’s future and the fight to avert climate chaos – they should make the case honestly.