Environment

NC appeals court rules against NC WARN in Greensboro solar power case

NC WARN installed a 5.25-kilowatt solar system on the roof of Faith Community Church and sold it the electricity as part of a leasing agreement. The state appeals court ruled NC WARN can’t sell the power because it in doing so it is acting as a public utility. (Photo: NC WARN)

The nonprofit environmental group NC WARN was acting as a public utility when it provided solar power to a Greensboro church, the NC Appellate Court ruled 2-1 today.

The decision favored Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and the NC Public Utilities Commission public staff, which had argued that NC WARN’s financial arrangement was infringing on the utility companies’ regulated monopoly.

Judges Hunter Murphy and Donna Stroud concurred on the ruling; Judge Chris Dillon dissented.

As Policy Watch reported in March during the original court hearing, NC WARN had entered into a “power purchase agreement” with Faith Community Church in Greensboro. The church leases a solar power system from the nonprofit by paying 5 cents a kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity.

NC WARN stopped selling power to the church while the court weighed its decision.

“In this case, NC WARN was clearly and unlawfully acting as a public utility without following the rules of being a public utility,” said Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless.

Jim Warn, executive director of NC WARN, said third-party financing arrangements such as this one are ‘in the public interest and are in accord with state policy promoting clean, affordable energy.”

The question before the court was whether NC WARN produced electricity for “the public” in doing so for the church. State statute doesn’t allow third parties to sell electricity to the public because it infringes on the regulated monopoly that is in place. However, House Bill 589, recently passed by the legislature, does allow for limited third-party leasing, which had previously been illegal.

Judge Murphy, wrote the majority opinion, stated that if NC WARN were allowed to generate and sell electricity to “cherry-picked nonprofit organizations” in North Carolina, “that activity stands to upset the balance of the marketplace.”

“Specifically,” Murphy went on, “such a stamp of approval by this court would open the door for other organizations like NC WARN to offer similar arrangements” to other nonprofits or commercial enterprises. That “would jeopardize regulation of the industry itself.”

Judge Dillon, though, disagreed. He wrote that NC WARN wasn’t acting as a public utility because one church doesn’t meet the definition of “public.” Nor does the nonprofit’s financial arrangement of leasing the system — basing it on a kilowatt hour basis rather than a flat monthly rate, Dillon wrote.

He compared the NC WARN arrangement with a hardware store that rented a portable generator based on the power it used rather than only a daily rate.

The NC WARN viewed its appeal as a test case, Warn said, “a challenge to Duke Energy’s blockade against competition from companies that install solar systems on rooftops with little or no up-front cost to the customer. Such financing arrangements have been a key to the growth of rooftop solar in many other states.”

Warn said the organization is “strongly considering” appealing the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  

NC WARN Appeals Court by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

News

Greensboro Police again face charges of profiling, brutality

One of the Greensboro police officers involved in the Jose Charles case is again at the center of racial profiling and police brutality complaints.

The complaint, filed late last month, is again raising questions about a department that has for years faced charges of profiling and several high-profile brutality cases.

From a story this week in Greensboro’s alternative weekly, Triad City Beat:

Almost from the moment they parked their car in front of Cheesecakes by Alex on South Elm Street, the four young, black men attracted the attention of the Greensboro police downtown bike patrol, Jones said.

“Immediately, we were surrounded by police officers, maybe seven of them,” Jones recalled. “They started asking us what we were doing, where we were going. We asked them why they were asking all these questions. The best answer they could give us is that they were the community resource team, and it was their job to go out in the community and ask questions.”

They would soon encounter the bike patrol again, this time on the 100 block of West McGee Street bustling with raucous late-night revelers in a confusing situation that quickly spun out of control, ending with Jones’ friend, Aaron Garrett, getting Tased and all four arrested and hauled down to the Guilford County Jail. Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer, contends that the four men became the target of the police’s attention solely because of their race, and that the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation.

One of the officers involved in the incident was Officer Samuel A. Alvarez, who can be seen in an eyewitness video grabbing one of the young men from behind and slamming him into a car before he is tossed to the ground.

Alvarez was also involved in the controversial Jose Charles case:

Jose Charles, a 15-year-old boy who had been attacked by a group of teenagers at the Fun Fourth Festival at Center City Park on July 4, 2016, wound up in a melee with downtown bike patrol officers that resulted in criminal charges against him and a hospital visit. While Charles was using his T-shirt to stanch blood from a cut above his eye, Officer Alvarez approached Charles and asked him what he was doing. Tamara Figueroa, Charles’ mother, alleged in an interview with Triad City Beat earlier this year that Alvarez reacted to her son’s profane response by grabbing him, lifting him “in the air with all the force they could, and slam[ming] him on his head.”

Cpl. Johnson, the supervisor on duty on both July 4 and Sept. 10, acknowledged in the investigative report for the Charles incident that following the encounter with Alvarez, “Charles’ pre-existing lacerations to his right eye began bleeding rapidly.”

The administrative investigation by the department’s professional standards division cleared the officers of wrongdoing in the Charles incident, but the police community review board, a citizen panel, disagreed with the department’s finding. Lindy Perry-Garnette, a member of the board, was forced to resign after she publicly expressed concern about what she saw in police body-camera video of the incident. Frustration about city council’s handling of the matter boiled over with dozens of Charles’ supporters taking over council chambers in May.

The latest incident is under administrative investigation, according to the Greensboro Police Department.

News

Charlottesville, Durham and the Greensboro Massacre

In the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA and the toppling of a Confederate monument in Durham last week, the political ground has shifted.

Duke University voluntarily removed the Robert E. Lee statue outside of Duke Chapel.

After decades of controversy, UNC is seriously discussing the removal of its ‘Silent Sam’ statue.

Perhaps most shocking to me:  the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the 1979 “Greensboro Massacre,” in which five members of the Communist Workers Party were killed by Klan/Neo-Nazi groups.

I spent a decade as a reporter at the News & Record, the daily newspaper in Greensboro. I city government. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see an actual apology.

For those unfamiliar with the 1979 tragedy, I would suggest this piece I wrote for the News & Record in 2015. The controversy then was a historical marker describing the tragedy which, after decades, many of the city cannot agree on.

From that piece:

“The fact that such a fiery argument still can rage at the highest levels of city government in 2015 is testament to the essential problem with all discussions of Nov. 3, 1979.

After more than 35 years, countless written accounts, three trials and a lengthy public Truth and Reconciliation process, the debate is still as heated as ever. No one version of events, how they happened and who was to blame has ever truly cooled and hardened into accepted, consensus history.

Debate over the killings still is framed in reductive racial and political terms.

Few are eager to wholeheartedly take the side of organized hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis.

But neither are many willing to mount a full-throated defense of Communist Workers Party members who urged “militant, direct action — a confrontation with the Klan” in the heart of Morningside Homes, the largely black neighborhood that was the first public housing project in North Carolina.

Morningside Homes is gone now — its cheap, 1950s-era houses and little dirt playground bulldozed.

But what happened there so long ago, its causes and its legacy, are still with us — those who were there that afternoon, those who watched footage of it on television in stunned silence, even those who were not yet born.”

The arguments over the events of Nov. 3, 1979 have special resonance this month. Arguments over political violence, property destruction and responsibility when political fights turn deadly – they are all features of the recent events that finally led to the Greensboro City Council’s apology.

What, if anything, we’ve learned since 1979 is an open question.

But it’s worth noting the Greensboro Massacre as one of a number of painful moments in the state’s history to which we should look as we decide where we go from here.

 

News

Greensboro City Council apologizes for 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings

On Tuesday night, the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the “Greensboro Massacre” – the Nov. 3, 1979 tragedy in which Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members shot and killed five activists from the Communist Workers Party.

The council has struggled with the city government and police department’s responsibility  in the shootings for decades. Two years ago the council voted to support a historical marker describing it as “The Greensboro Massacre” – the controversial phrase by which it is most widely known. But the council stopped short of formally apologizing then – something for which community activists in the state’s third largest city have long fought.

In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville last weekend, that changed on Tuesday.

As the News & Record, Greensboro’s daily newspaper, reported:

The vote came unexpectedly, after several speakers urged the council to take the step in light of Saturday’s killing of an anti-Klan and anti-Nazi protester in Charlottesville, Va. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower made the motion, which was seconded by Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson.

The Klan-Nazi shootings happened the morning of Nov. 3, 1979, just as the march was forming in the Morningside Homes community. A heavily armed caravan of Klansmen and Nazis drove into a “Death to the Klan” rally and confronted anti-Klan marchers, many of whom were members of what became the Communist Workers Party. During the ensuing gunfire, five anti-Klan marchers were killed and 10 others wounded. All criminal defendants later were acquitted in state and federal criminal trials. A civil jury found the city and some Klansmen liable for one of the deaths. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent two years researching the shooting and the events surrounding it, and released its findings in 2006. Besides blaming the Klansmen and Nazi shooters, as well as the local police, it found that the march’s organizers, members of the CWP, share some responsibility, “albeit lesser.”

As recently as 2009, the City Council voted to issue a statement of regret for the events of that day, but stopped short of apologizing.

“This type of tragedy is nothing new,” said Tessa Kirkpatrick, a member of Anti-Racist White Folks Serving Black Lives Matter, on the incident in Charlottesville. “White supremacy has shaped both cities.”

“Let’s turn the tragedy of 1979 into a triumph for the city of Greensboro,” said Joyce Johnson, who was a participant in the “Death to the Klan” rally and the wife of one of the organizers, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.

Council members say they plan to review the commission’s report, with an eye toward issuing a more formal apology in the future. April Parker, a member of Black Lives Matter, then took to the podium and demanded an apology from the Greensboro Police Department and read the rest of the commission’s findings. She shouted: “The apologies have just begun!”

The council also voted to reinstate the city’s Police Community Review Board, which has been a point of controversy as the city continues to struggle with tensions between the community and its police department.

 

 

News

Greensboro writer on being on the ground in Charlottesville

You need to make time to read this first-person piece on the chaos of this weekend’s deadly rally in Charlottesville by Greensboro’s own Jordan Green.

Green, a writer and senior editor at Triad City Beat, has been covering right-wing and white supremacist gatherings – and their counter-protests – for years. He wrote the piece from Charlottesville for The Nation magazine.

Green interviewed people on the scene, getting some sobering reflections from North Carolinians who showed up to protest the “Unite the Right” rally.

From his piece:

Tanesha Hudson, a local activist with Showing Up for Racial Justice, reflected on the trauma during a speak-out at McGuffey Park three hours after the attack.

“I really don’t know how to feel about today,” she said. “I know people didn’t come out here to lose their life. I know people came out here thinking that the police would at least protect us. We are citizens here in Charlottesville that pay our taxes, and our tax dollars didn’t work for us today; it worked for them. They were protecting them. They escorted them, they walked them out to make sure they were okay. They never once, never once even offered or lifted a finger. The only thing they lifted for us to do was shoot tear gas. They never once did anything to protect us—the people who are standing for peace and unity and love and togetherness.”

As she spoke, mourners laid flowers in a pile in the center of the park to honor those killed and injured in the attack. The mood in the stricken crowd modulated between defeat and resolve.

“This is like a replay of Jim Crow,” Hudson said. “I mean, I don’t know what other way to put it. I stand here as a young black lady, and I feel like I’m living through Jim Crow. I feel like today was a replay of 1960. Things I hear my grandmother and grandfather talk about, I witnessed today.”

Read the whole thing here.