Duke Energy is at it again, fighting to restrict access to solar energy in North Carolina and this time threatening a small nonprofit and African-American church in the process.
This past week, Duke Energy asked state regulators to fine Durham nonprofit NC WARN $1,000 a day for selling solar power to Faith Community Church in Greensboro. In total, this would amount to over $120,000, a debilitating blow to an organization of NC WARN’s size. Not only is Duke asking for a fine dating back to June, it is doing so after initially connecting the solar project to the grid. Duke’s latest in a series of actions against solar choice seems to be an attempt to intimidate and silence one of its longtime critics, while denying average North Carolinians solar choice.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission should not bend to the utility’s bullying. Rather than fining NC WARN for providing solar power to a church at half the price that Duke could, NCUC should rule in favor of the nonprofit’s ability to do so. North Carolina is long overdue for energy provided by companies other than Duke. NC WARN’s stand for energy choice should be commended.
North Carolina remains one of just five states with an explicit ban on third-party energy sales, meaning it’s illegal for anyone besides the regulated electric utility to sell power. At every turn, Duke has fought to keep it that way. Not only is it looking to deny affordable solar to this one community church, this last year it lobbied the state legislature to kill legislation that would ensure other churches, businesses and residences across the state could buy electricity from another company. And Duke Energy has virtually no plans to offer solar itself, as it comprises just 4 percent of its planned energy mix over the next 15 years.
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It is particularly egregious that Duke is attacking a solar project that benefits a church. Faith groups assist low-income communities, many of whom are struggling to cover expensive energy bills to pay for the company’s coal, gas and nuclear plants. Rather than further harming these communities, Duke should get out of the way and allow them access to the affordable clean energy they desire.
Despite the utility’s best efforts, North Carolina faith leaders continue to unite to advocate for more clean energy options in the state. In North Carolina, several religious groups are now considering how to develop affordable housing for impoverished people that employs renewable energy sources. Recently, the Muslim American Society of Charlotte launched a program to install solar panels on the homes of 40 congregants and their mosque. Increasingly, faith communities see clean energy as a way to protect creation and conserve resources. Unfortunately, with a third-party sales ban in place, solar can be difficult for these groups to afford without upfront capital.
You would think that a company with a nearly $2 billion annual profit wouldn’t need to gouge a small nonprofit offering affordable solar power to a church. The NCUC should ensure there is no fine, and rule affirmatively that other companies can sell affordable solar throughout our state as well.
Monica Embrey is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace USA based in North Carolina. Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler is an Associate Professor of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary.