Commentary

Environmental advocate: Duke Energy needs to change its two-faced approach to solar power

Solar powerThe following essay was written By Rachel Morales, Clean Energy Organizer at Environment North Carolina.

Don’t let North Carolina’s commitment to solar power fade
By Rachel Morales

Solar power has been an enormous success in North Carolina. During each of the last two years, North Carolina has ranked fourth in the nation in the amount of solar capacity added.

What’s more, that growth is no mistake or accident. In the last decade, our state leaders passed forward-thinking policies, like tax incentives to encourage individuals to buy solar and a “renewable energy portfolio” standard that requires a portion of North Carolina’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources.

Indeed, these and other policies have spurred a solar boom in the state. Solar businesses have popped up statewide and more and more families, businesses, and farms have decided to go solar. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) North Carolina now generates 1,088 megawatts of solar energy each year, enough to power 116,000 homes. A new poll by the ClearPath Foundation found that 84 percent of registered voters “support action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” including 72 percent of Republican voters.

At a glance, Duke Energy is also a proponent of solar energy. The energy giant has installed more than 600 megawatts of solar capacity to date and is touting plans to bring more online in 2016.

Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the company has taken action to discourage rooftop solar in the state. Duke Energy executives have, for instance, sought to weaken “net metering” policies that encourage consumers to go solar. And during the most recent session of the General Assembly, Duke helped stall a bipartisan bill known as the “Energy Freedom Act” that has the potential revolutionize the market, making it easier for every North Carolinian to use solar energy.

And, of course, North Carolina hasn’t just made it harder to grow the solar industry in recent years; together with Duke, lawmakers and Governor McCrory have actually taken things backward by repealing North Carolina’s  successful renewable energy tax credit that promoted solar investments.

Sadly, North Carolina isn’t the only state in which anti-solar advocates are trying to turn back the clock. In state after state around the country, lawmakers are taking steps to limit solar growth, despite its stellar performance.

This pattern is no mistake either. A report by Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, Blocking the Sun, connects Duke Energy’s tactics to those of 12 other special interest groups fighting to cast a shadow on the industry’s growth nationwide. This dirty dozen includes the Koch Brothers – the billionaire business owners, conservative activists and fossil fuel barons who are spending millions to fund groups like the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These groups work to craft and plug policies to implement in states across the country with the intent of rolling back solar policies.

Duke Energy has used the support from Koch front groups to extend its anti-solar sentiments throughout the south. The utility company has lobbied against “third party sales” in North Carolina’s General Assembly, and according to the Environment NC report, Duke has made million-dollar campaign contributions to anti-solar politicians in Florida.

Strangely, despite these actions, Duke Energy is actually growing its own solar fleet in North Carolina because it knows solar is a smart investment.

The bottom line: It’s great that Duke Energy is investing in solar power, but we cannot allow it to be the only such investor to exclude others from doing so. We need Duke Energy to do the right thing and support legislation that expands rooftop solar, making solar more cost effective for all North Carolinians.

[This post has been updated to clarify that lawmakers repealed the state renewable energy tax credit, not the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.]

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