Point of View

High-profit Duke Energy singling out solar producers for fees

March 25, 2014 

It is hard to imagine that amid the disaster of the Dan River coal ash spill that Duke Energy would continue to pursue policies that perpetuate the “old energy” paradigm of pollute and profit, but that is exactly the utility’s response to North Carolinians who are going solar.

Simultaneous to its cleanup and public relations efforts around the toxic by-products of coal-powered plants, Duke is lobbying hard to charge monthly fees to solar rooftop households that use net metering to generate clean energy.

Net metering solar generators produce benefits to all. If such a fee passes, it will prove disastrous for North Carolina’s solar industry and North Carolina’s environment.

Currently, Duke Energy and the anti-solar American Legislative Exchange Council are lobbying to charge solar customers extra. Duke says that unless this fee is approved, the costs of solar producers tied to the grid “will be shifted to the nonsolar customers. This is simply not fair.” John Eick of ALEC called grid-tied solar energy producers “free riders.”

As a small-business owner who has recently added solar panels to his home office in Asheville, I don’t consider us free riders. We are part of the future of clean energy.

Consider the costs and benefits.

Duke is making record profits. Yet who pays for the cost of pollution? The people of North Carolina do. And the costs are staggering: a public health disaster that runs in the billions.

With its record profits, Duke Energy not only pays no taxes and receives a tax credit, it also doesn’t pay for the environmental costs of polluting our state.

All energy is subsidized: coal, nuclear, natural gas, oil, solar, wind, hydroelectric and the utilities that link us to that energy. That’s the reason Duke doesn’t pay taxes. Yet, it and ALEC single out taxpaying citizens who choose solar power.

At the same time, Duke Energy generates revenue from solar rooftops in several ways. For example, with net metering, regulations state that Duke gets our Renewable Energy Credits, which are units of green energy it sells at a premium. Duke is making a profit. It does not need to shift costs to nonsolar customers.

Nevertheless, Duke is lobbying to reduce incentives for solar rooftop producers and to charge monthly fees. If these regulations change, then homeowners and small businesses will feel the effects. Solar energy will lose viability for many. Fewer people will invest in solar if it doesn’t make financial sense.

Duke Energy needs to acknowledge and support smaller solar generators in North Carolina with consistent treatment.

Duke and ALEC need to end their campaign to target people who might want to help society by putting solar panels on their rooftops.

The Utilities Commission and state representatives should maintain and even enhance current solar regulations for the benefit of all, not just the large corporations and rich investors.

Lloyd Raleigh is director of Helia Environmental LLC in Asheville.

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