A prominent Greensboro minister and community leader is calling for a meeting with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good over the utility’s efforts to derail the growing use of rooftop solar power in North Carolina. He criticizes Good’s targeting of African American pastors and political leaders with what he calls a cynical and disproven claim that the growing use of rooftop solar harms people with low incomes and people of color.
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, in an open letter to Good co-authored by NC WARN Director Jim Warren, also decried Duke’s aggressive lobbying against the bipartisan Energy Freedom Bill that would open the door to third party solar competition in this state, “thereby helping the same low-wealth communities for which Duke Energy now professes concern.”
As pastor of the predominantly African-American Faith Community Church in Greensboro,Rev. Johnson said he has been visited in recent months by three different individuals selling Duke’s “solar power hurts the poor” message. In seeking the meeting with Good, the authors said Duke’s actions “are adding to its serious credibility problem with the people of this state, and we wish to share some constructive ideas for repairing this divide.”
There is abundant evidence that the “solar hurts the poor” strategy has been coordinated nationally by the electric power industry. It has recently been rejected by the NAACP’s national board, by various state NAACP chapters, and by the congressional black caucus, among others.
Nevertheless, Rev. Johnson said today, “Duke Energy is vigorously pursuing this same deception in North Carolina. This cynical corporate activity is an affront to the people of this state, and it is Ms. Good’s personal responsibility to stop it.”
The NAACP agrees that solar power helps communities of color for many reasons. Chief among them is that every new solar panel helps all customers by reducing overall electricity usage, thus reducing the need to keep building expensive power plants and continually raising customer rates.
“We urge you to stop this duplicitous corporate behavior,” Johnson and Warren told CEO Good. “We urge you, instead, to open a dialogue with us and other North Carolinians about our common interest in an energy future that benefits all communities by reducing rate increases, creating jobs, and by reducing the pollution that is harming our health and moving an already horrific global climate situation toward a disastrous future for all of Creation.”
A Profound Irony
Solar companies with strong financial backing want to install systems in this state on the property of churches, businesses, homes, and government buildings, and then sell them the power for no up-front cost and at a fixed rate that’s lower than Duke’s electricity. But they have been inhibited by rules requiring customers to buy from their monopoly utility. The Energy Freedom Act would change that.
“There is a profound irony in your vigorous opposition to the Energy Freedom Act,”Johnson and Warren told Good:“Because your customers are increasingly choosing solar, you’re trying force other captive customers to pay more for dirty power plants. Then, from the other side of your corporate mouth, you’re trying to block the very avenue for those other customers to go solar.”
In other words, even if Duke were correct about solar harming low-income North Carolinians, the bipartisan Energy Freedom Bill solves that problem for many of them by eliminating the up-front cost of adding rooftop solar.
Also from the letter: “To be clear, low-income communities are suffering under your business model. Our communities cannot continue bearing the higher and higher electric bills that would result from your 15-year projections in the Integrated Resource Plan.
“Our communities need the many thousands of jobs that the solar power industry is bringing to this state. Duke Energy could take a leading role by helping ensure that those economic benefits are shared among traditionally disadvantaged communities. …
“In a nation heavily riven by longstanding inequities and divisions over race – and in a time when multiple parties are gratuitously exploiting and amplifying those divisions – we would welcome, with your involvement, the chance to close the gap between the public well-being and corporate leaders’ narrow focus on profit.”
Rev. Johnson, who also heads the Beloved Community Center, added today, “Reducing the cost of electrical energy for the poor, while reducing North Carolina’s carbon footprint through increased use of solar energy, reflects both moral and economic progress, which the broad religious community supports.