Under the Dome

July 2, 2014

NC WARN launches $100K media blitz against Duke Energy

Durham advocacy group NC WARN launches $100K media blitz against Duke Energy’s bid to pay less for solar power.

NC WARN, the Durham advocacy group, has launched a $100,000 media blitz to discredit Duke Energy’s bid to pay less for solar electricity.

The campaign is timed to a public hearing Monday at which Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility, will ask the N.C. Utilities Commission for greater negotiating leeway on rates paid for electricity generated by independent solar farms.

Duke executives say that with North Carolina now ranked fourth in the nation for total solar power production – ranking only behind California, Arizona and New Jersey – solar generation costs have come down considerably and should be reflected in the going price.

But Duke’s idea of a competitive price for solar power is mocked by NC WARN’s newspaper ads as corporate greed.

“Rooftop and large-scale solar reduce Duke Energy’s profits from dirty power plants,” the ad says. “So Duke is trying to stop paying a fair price to solar-generating customers who contribute clean power to the electric grid.”

The NC WARN campaign will air TV spots in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte markets, as well as newspaper ads and online promos. NC WARN executive director Jim Warren said the first phase will cost between $80,000 and $100,000 and could continue with a second phase this fall.

The newspaper ad, which ran in the A section of today’s N&O, depicts Charlotte-based Duke as a solar-hating polluter guilty of a toxic coal ash spill into the Dan River in February. In the TV ad, an actor playing a Duke executive boasts about the company’s antipathy to solar power and clean energy.

Under North Carolina law, Duke can negotiate the rate it pays to giant solar farms with a capacity greater than 5 megawatts. But for solar producers sized between 100 kilowatts and 5 megawatts, Duke (and other power companies) have to pay a fixed rate set by the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke is asking the Utilities Commission to allow utilities to negotiate the rates paid to the smaller producers as well. Duke executives have repeatedly stated that North Carolina’s solar producers are being overpaid because solar production costs are plummeting.

The company insists it isn’t trying to reduce solar power, but critics say that will be the effect if solar producers are paid less.

“This isn’t that we want to buy less solar,” said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless. “It’s just a way to give us better flexibility on how to buy solar – where it makes sense and where it doesn’t make sense.”

“There are so many projects in the queue that we wouldn’t buy less solar,” Wheeless said.

Monday’s hearing begins at 1:30 in the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury Street in Raleigh, and is expected to last several days.

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