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Duke Energy Seeks $120,000 Fine Against Nonprofit for Challenging Its Solar Monopoly

Wednesday, November 04, 2015 By Sue Sturgis, Facing South | Report
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Duke Energy, which last year reported a profit of almost $2 billion, is seeking a $120,000 fine against a nonprofit for trying to undermine the company's solar power sales monopoly in North Carolina.

NC WARN, an energy watchdog group based in Durham, began selling solar power to Faith Community Church in Greensboro back in June after installing a 5.2 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of the predominantly African-American church. North Carolina is one of only four states that do not allow third-party sales of solar power, requiring instead that electricity be sold through a handful of regulated utilities granted monopoly status.

At the time it began selling solar power to the church, NC WARN asked the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) for a declaratory ruling to clarify state policy on third-party sales, which increase access to solar power by allowing customers to pay for rooftop systems over time with no up-front installation costs.

NC WARN argues that the arrangement with Faith Community Church is consistent with state energy policy and the constitutional ban on monopolies. Supporting NC WARN in its case are SolarCity, which is the nation's largest solar company, and other solar providers. It's also been joined by the nonprofit NC Interfaith Power & Light, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But Duke Energy disagrees with NC WARN and its allies. Last week the company submitted a filing with the NCUC opposing the request for a declaratory ruling and asking regulators to issue a cease and desist order against the nonprofit.

"Instead of waiting for the Commission to rule upon the legality of its scheme … NC WARN has already admitted to generating and selling electricity to its chosen customer," the filing states. "NC WARN's Request must be rejected and its blatant disregard for the law and this Commission's authority should not be condoned."

Duke Energy is also asking the NCUC to require NC WARN to return payments made to it by the church — which the nonprofit says have amounted to "a few hundred bucks" — and to impose civil penalties of up to $1,000 for every day the violation occurred, which in this case could add up to $120,000.

NC WARN issued a press release blasting Duke Energy for seeking a fine and accusing it of retaliating against the relatively small nonprofit for its vocal criticism of the company's fossil fuel-dependent, climate-disrupting business model. In its most recent filing with the IRS, NC WARN reported income of just over $1 million in 2014.

"Duke Energy is entitled to disagree with us," the NC WARN release states, "but seeking to financially hammer this 27 year-old nonprofit is more proof that Goliath wants neither competition, criticism, nor scrutiny."

NC WARN recently petitioned North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to modify Duke's corporate charter to better protect the public from harm caused by the company's pollution, pricing structure and political influence.

The other states where third-party solar sales are not currently allowed under law are Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Georgia was on that list until March, when the legislature passed a bill allowing third-party sales and Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed it into law.

Florida could also leave that list next year, when the state's voters will weigh in on whether to loosen restrictions on third-party sales. Just last month, the state's Supreme Court approved language for the November ballot.

bill to allow third-party solar sales was introduced this year in the North Carolina legislature, but it languished in committee. Duke Energy was among the interests that lobbied against it.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sue Sturgis

Sue is editorial director at the Institute for Southern Studies, which she joined in November 2005 as director of the Institute's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project to document and investigate the post-Katrina recovery. A former staff writer for the Raleigh News & Observer and Independent Weekly (Durham, North Carolina), Sue directs and regularly contributes to the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or coauthor of five Institute reports, including "Faith in the Gulf" (August/September 2008), "Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement" (January 2008) and "Blueprint for Gulf Renewal" (August/September 2007). Sue holds a master's degree in journalism from New York University.

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Duke Energy Seeks $120,000 Fine Against Nonprofit for Challenging Its Solar Monopoly

Wednesday, November 04, 2015 By Sue Sturgis, Facing South | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Duke Energy, which last year reported a profit of almost $2 billion, is seeking a $120,000 fine against a nonprofit for trying to undermine the company's solar power sales monopoly in North Carolina.

NC WARN, an energy watchdog group based in Durham, began selling solar power to Faith Community Church in Greensboro back in June after installing a 5.2 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of the predominantly African-American church. North Carolina is one of only four states that do not allow third-party sales of solar power, requiring instead that electricity be sold through a handful of regulated utilities granted monopoly status.

At the time it began selling solar power to the church, NC WARN asked the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) for a declaratory ruling to clarify state policy on third-party sales, which increase access to solar power by allowing customers to pay for rooftop systems over time with no up-front installation costs.

NC WARN argues that the arrangement with Faith Community Church is consistent with state energy policy and the constitutional ban on monopolies. Supporting NC WARN in its case are SolarCity, which is the nation's largest solar company, and other solar providers. It's also been joined by the nonprofit NC Interfaith Power & Light, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But Duke Energy disagrees with NC WARN and its allies. Last week the company submitted a filing with the NCUC opposing the request for a declaratory ruling and asking regulators to issue a cease and desist order against the nonprofit.

"Instead of waiting for the Commission to rule upon the legality of its scheme … NC WARN has already admitted to generating and selling electricity to its chosen customer," the filing states. "NC WARN's Request must be rejected and its blatant disregard for the law and this Commission's authority should not be condoned."

Duke Energy is also asking the NCUC to require NC WARN to return payments made to it by the church — which the nonprofit says have amounted to "a few hundred bucks" — and to impose civil penalties of up to $1,000 for every day the violation occurred, which in this case could add up to $120,000.

NC WARN issued a press release blasting Duke Energy for seeking a fine and accusing it of retaliating against the relatively small nonprofit for its vocal criticism of the company's fossil fuel-dependent, climate-disrupting business model. In its most recent filing with the IRS, NC WARN reported income of just over $1 million in 2014.

"Duke Energy is entitled to disagree with us," the NC WARN release states, "but seeking to financially hammer this 27 year-old nonprofit is more proof that Goliath wants neither competition, criticism, nor scrutiny."

NC WARN recently petitioned North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to modify Duke's corporate charter to better protect the public from harm caused by the company's pollution, pricing structure and political influence.

The other states where third-party solar sales are not currently allowed under law are Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Georgia was on that list until March, when the legislature passed a bill allowing third-party sales and Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed it into law.

Florida could also leave that list next year, when the state's voters will weigh in on whether to loosen restrictions on third-party sales. Just last month, the state's Supreme Court approved language for the November ballot.

bill to allow third-party solar sales was introduced this year in the North Carolina legislature, but it languished in committee. Duke Energy was among the interests that lobbied against it.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sue Sturgis

Sue is editorial director at the Institute for Southern Studies, which she joined in November 2005 as director of the Institute's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project to document and investigate the post-Katrina recovery. A former staff writer for the Raleigh News & Observer and Independent Weekly (Durham, North Carolina), Sue directs and regularly contributes to the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or coauthor of five Institute reports, including "Faith in the Gulf" (August/September 2008), "Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement" (January 2008) and "Blueprint for Gulf Renewal" (August/September 2007). Sue holds a master's degree in journalism from New York University.

Related Stories

Monopoly Endgame for the Global Economy
By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, The Daily Take | Op-Ed
Solar Power Gets Hot, Hot, Hot
By William A. Collins, Emily Schwartz Greco, OtherWords | Op-Ed
Solar Lights a Healthy - and Empowering - Path in Disasters
By Marianne Lavelle, The Daily Climate | Op-Ed