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In My Words: Eliminate Duke's monopoly on renewables

Associate Professor Jeffrey S. Coker authored a guest column for regional newspapers in which he criticizes Duke Energy’s efforts to stop a North Carolina nonprofit from selling solar power to a Greensboro church.

The following column appeared recently in the Charlotte Observer, the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Fayetteville Observer and the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News via the Elon University Writers Syndicate. Views are those of the author and not Elon University.

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Associate Professor Jeffrey S. Coker

Eliminate Duke's monopoly on renewables
By Jeffrey S. Coker - jcoker@elon.edu

Duke Energy has asked the N.C. Utilities Commission to fine a small nonprofit group, NC WARN, $1,000 per day for selling solar energy to a church in Greensboro. The irony and hypocrisy here are thicker than the sludge in a Duke Energy coal ash pond. 

It is hard to imagine something more directly opposed to conservative principles than a state-mandated monopoly on electricity.  And it is equally hard to imagine any North Carolinian wanting to squash the renewable energy project of a church. 

So here is a challenge to our governor and the North Carolina legislature: If you are principled people, then get rid of the laws that give Duke Energy a monopoly position over renewables and open up the state to competition.

It was only a few weeks ago that our governor, a former Duke Energy employee, signed the bill that will eliminate state subsidies for alternative energy. The rationale was that clean energy could compete in the marketplace on its own. That argument might have teeth if there were actually competition.

But, of course, there is no competition. North Carolina is one of only four states with a law prohibiting third parties from selling electricity. There are also other laws that support Duke Energy’s monopoly position.

Meanwhile, the last few months have seen a whirlwind of destructive environmental policy. We’ve seen little accountability for coal ash spills into waterways, loosening of anti-pollution laws, increased efforts to drill off the coastline, the announced merger of Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, plans for more fossil fuel power plants, talk of eliminating the state’s renewable energy standard, and on and on. 

All that’s missing is a bill to promote the kicking of puppies. 

Somehow we’ve been lured – and bullied – into a direction that is not in the best interests of North Carolinians.  How could this happen in a state where the vast majority of people prefer renewable energy over fossil fuels? 

There are three reasons. First, the fossil fuel economy is driving extreme wealth for a very few people, mostly outside our state. Second, those very few people are bankrolling a national effort to promote fossil fuel monopolies and squash renewables. Third, we’ve allowed the largest and most powerful energy utility in the country to spring up in our own backyard. 

None of this helps North Carolina.  We are not a fossil fuel producer like West Virginia, Wyoming or Saudi Arabia. North Carolinians have nothing to gain by supporting energy monopolies and fossil fuel barons.

If North Carolina conservatives are actually driven by conservatism, then getting rid of a state energy monopoly on renewables should be a no-brainer. If liberals and independents are concerned with environmental protection and mitigating climate change, then getting rid of a state energy monopoly over renewables should also be a no-brainer. 

The N.C. Utilities Commission should side with Faith Community Church and NC WARN and allow third party sales of renewable electricity. Competition will lead to innovation and lower prices. To share your thoughts on this case with the Utilities Commission, you can send an email to ‘statements@ncuc.net’ and refer to ‘Docket SP-100 Sub 31’.

Regardless of what the Utilities Commission decides, the core problem here is the law. Let’s take it down. Monopolies have no place in a democratic society, particularly when they are structural barriers to progress.

If North Carolinians act in their own best interests, this is an issue we can agree on.

Jeffrey S. Coker is an associate professor of biology and director of the Core Curriculum at Elon University. He is the author of "Reinventing Life: A Guide to Our Evolutionary Future."

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Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend (etownsend4@elon.edu) in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.

 

Eric Townsend,
Staff
11/17/2015 2:35 PM