North Carolina groups call for end to utility monopoly, 100% renewable energy

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Fifteen organizations aim to transition North Carolina to 100% renewable electricity, largely by ending monopoly control of generation by the state’s dominant utility, Duke Energy, and opening the state to electricity competition. Their online petition says that in states with competitive energy markets, “cheaper clean and renewable energy rapidly replaces fossil fuels and drives economic development.”

Local concerns are driving the campaign. “Our communities are being harmed both by Duke Energy’s coal ash negligence and by repeated flooding from our changing climate,” said Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition, at a press conference. Other motivating issues are the “proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline” and “constant rate hikes.”

The coalition says polls show widespread voter support. A survey by Clean Energy Conservatives, showing that 85% of North Carolina voters would more likely support “a lawmaker or candidate who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options,” was cited by Jim Warren, executive director of coalition member NC WARN.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order last October aiming to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to a level 40% below 2005 levels by 2025. A solar contribution of about 30% of the state’s electricity generation would correspond to that goal, according to a pv magazine analysis.

North Carolina currently gets 5.4% of its electricity from solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But Mr. Warren said solar represents only 3% of generation in Duke territory, and that Duke’s latest integrated resource plan shows the utility will be at 8% total renewables in 2033. “Other utilities around the country are doing 20-30% renewables,” said Mr. Warren, “and projecting to go much higher still.”

In response, Duke Energy spokesperson Randy Wheeless noted that North Carolina’s solar capacity is second only to California’s. He cited a graph that the utility presented to shareholders last week, showing that the utility plans to reach 14% renewables, including hydropower, by 2030.

For comparison, across the U.S., solar contributes more than 10% of generation in five states, while wind and solar combined contribute more than 20% of generation in ten states. Last year, the competitive electricity market in Texas reached 22% generation from wind and solar, up four points from 18% in 2017. California stands at 26% renewables (19% solar and 7% wind), thanks to its renewable portfolio standard and competitive electricity market, and has seen a “substantial decline in daily average prices” according to a working paper from Energy Institute at Haas.

Mr. Warren noted that NC WARN’s engineering report North Carolina Clean Path 2025 found that the state has the potential for “near point-of-use” solar with energy storage—on rooftops and over parking lots, plus community solar—that is twice the amount needed to phase out all coal and gas in the state by 2030; and that the state could get halfway there by 2025. “North Carolina has very good solar potential; we’ve got enormous potential to do this job,” he said.

For many years, Duke Energy has been among the state’s largest political contributors, according to a press statement from the campaign. “Duke’s influence erodes our democracy,” said Mr. Jones, “and we’re calling for people across North Carolina to tell their public officials to stop taking Duke Energy’s toxic influence money”—a call that is included in the campaign’s petition.

The campaign’s final goal, says the press statement, is for each new appointee to the North Carolina Utilities Commission to be someone who will “stand up to Duke Energy, prioritize the public interest, and protect the state’s natural beauty.”

The campaign is “a rare citizen-led effort organized to break up the monopoly control of a U.S. corporate utility,” says the statement. Local and statewide groups are aided in the campaign by regional and national organizations such as Appalachian Voices, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Food & Water Watch.

The name of the campaign is “Energy Justice NC: End the Duke Monopoly.”