Opinion

It’s time to break NC’s dependence on fossil fuels

Solar energy is a growing form of providing power and saving money for customers. It is considered less harmful to the environment than traditional forms of energy.
Solar energy is a growing form of providing power and saving money for customers. It is considered less harmful to the environment than traditional forms of energy. Sammy Fretwell

A series of monster hurricanes have pummeled eastern North Carolina, devastating its rural communities. Since 2016, Robeson County, has seen three so-called “500-year floods” and other steady rains that have turned the Lumbee River — a lifeline for generations — into something people fear.

Eastern North Carolina communities are also suffering the storm of efforts by Duke Energy to push the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through their communities. They’ve also been hit with repeated rate increases and toxic coal ash pollution while the utility blocks competition from cheaper, cleaner renewable energy solutions. These are symptoms of North Carolina’s badly broken electricity system.

Low-wealth and communities of color are hurt most, but all state residents are harmed by rapid climate disruption and by constant electric bill increases from Duke’s plans for unneeded pipelines, fracked-gas power plants and a $13 billion scheme for unnecessary transmission “improvements.” Charlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s largest power provider, generates 90 percent of the electricity used in North Carolina.

The good news is that solar and wind power — matched with energy storage — can create a more affordable, safer and secure electric system while creating local jobs and community wealth based on market competition and consumer choice. But, even as competitive U.S. markets are rapidly expanding renewables-with-storage, Duke is blocking the way in North Carolina while planning to be only 8 percent renewable in 2033.

How? By spending millions each year – customer dollars – to buy favor with politicians and civic leaders, and to make people think Duke is green. That money is a moral decay that erodes our democracy. It’s time for people across North Carolina to tell their state and local officials to stop taking Duke Energy’s toxic influence money.

That’s why a new, diverse coalition of 15 local, state and national groups has launched a vigorous statewide campaign to end Duke’s monopoly control over North Carolina’s energy markets and public officials. The campaign, called Energy Justice NC: End the Duke Monopoly, is set to open this state to competition and do our part to slow the climate crisis.

The coalition is also launching a statewide petition drive – housed at energyjusticenc.org – for individuals, organizations and businesses. It calls on state leaders to begin a fair process and legislation to revamp our electricity system and open the state to competition.

A new report by the Retail Energy Supply Association showed that, between 2008 and 2016, electricity prices fell by 8 percent in competitive states while those in monopoly states rose by 15 percent. Last summer, a poll by Conservatives for Clean Energy showed overwhelming voter support across the political spectrum for energy choice and renewable power. We intend to turn that support into action.

With advances in affordable renewable sources such as wind, solar and storage, this state should be moving along the path of a just transition away from coal and gas.

With the launch of this campaign, we are taking a stand at this crucial time in human history. The climate crisis demands we ditch fossil fuels starting right now, and it can be done.. We urge all North Carolinians to join us.

Donna Chavis is with Robeson County’s RedTailed Hawk Collective and Friends of the Earth. Jean Su is energy director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. Jim Warren is executive director of NC WARN

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