As legal battle begins over nonprofit’s solar sales to church partner, national solar companies, NC industry and faith groups join case over monopoly control of rooftops
As a legal battle begins over whether only Duke Energy can sell electricity in its captive territories, the nation’s largest electric corporation is calling for massive financial punishment of its long-time critic, nonprofit NC WARN, for selling solar power to a community church in Greensboro.
Duke Energy told the NC Utilities Commission in a Friday filing that the regulators should penalize NC WARN up to $1,000 for every day since late June, when the group began selling solar power to Faith Community Church after contracting to have a 5.2 kilowatt photovoltaic system installed on its roof.
Duke Energy is clearly trying to punish and silence one of its most persistent critics. After joining the Koch brothers in beating down bipartisan legislation that would have allowed solar competition – and which had broad public, business and military support – this attempt to sanction NC WARN shows how intensely Duke will fight to disallow third-party financing for solar power.
Duke’s position is particularly egregious because NC WARN and Rev. Nelson Johnson very publicly announced the unprecedented solar installation as a test case to clarify state policy, and it was accompanied by an NC WARN legal request for a declaratory ruling by the NC Utilities Commission.
We have cited precedents from in-state cases and those in other states, and maintain that the funding arrangement is consistent with state energy policy and with the constitutional ban of monopolies, and that it should be encouraged across North Carolina. Since that time, numerous other churches have expressed interest in solar power via third party – or “no money down” – solar financing in order to save money and further their Earth stewardship.
Duke Energy is entitled to disagree with us, but seeking to financially hammer this 27 year-old nonprofit is more proof that Goliath wants neither competition, criticism, nor scrutiny.
This case has been joined by the nation’s largest solar company, SolarCity and others interested in offering “no money down” installation of solar on churches, businesses, homes and other customers. Nonprofit NC Interfaith Power & Light is also an intervener, represented by Southern Environmental Law Center, and supports our position.
North Carolina is one of only four states where third party sales are thought to be disallowed – three of them are Duke states. Georgia recently joined the rest of the country where either regulators or courts have allowed solar companies to sell power directly to customers from systems on those customers’ property. Until now, no one has tested it in North Carolina.
How can Duke possibly justify a $120,000 penalty based on losing a few hundred bucks in sales to the Faith Community Church?
NC WARN has been openly and persistently critical of Duke Energy’ executives’ climate-wrecking, customer-gouging practices over many years. That includes its “build plants, raise rates, control government” business model, its coal ash injustices, its distortions about carbon emissions and solar power, and its Koch collaboration to limit solar. Most recently, we have petitioned Attorney General Cooper to alter Duke’s corporate charter, and are challenging Duke’s incredible stumbling toward a fracking gas future despite its disastrous methane emissions and high-risk financial future.
All these efforts continue to the present day, and it seems clear that Duke is now retaliating, seeking to cast a chilling effect over NC WARN and other critics. Our long-running criticisms have remained truthful and factual, and directed not toward the many Duke’s workers who do their jobs well. Our complaints are with the executives who make so many decisions that are incompatible with the physical and economic well-being of the people of North Carolina.
NC WARN will continue seeking to foster honest public debate about Duke Energy’s practices and the need to join the clean energy revolution. We have offered to the executives many times – and hereby repeat again – that we to would like very much to find ways to stop fighting Duke, and to work together to address the planetary emergency posed by climate change.
As Rev. Johnson stated at the ribbon cutting ceremony in June: “The time is right for the People of North Carolina to come together around our common goals of stewardship, pollution, and the protection of low-income customers against the rising power bills they face under Duke Energy’s current plans.”
Third party solar could be helping all electricity customers avoid rate hikes for more power plants – if companies offering third party sales are allowed to compete in this state.