Duke Energy and Other Utilities Love Solar Power — As Long as They Can Control It

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Utilities around the country change their position on solar to a positive one, in an attempt to control the energy source. As part of a larger effort, Duke Energy pushes legislation in South Carolina that would give utilities a monopoly over rooftop solar.

 

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or in this case, if you can’t beat ‘em, take over their game. That seems to be utilities’ latest tactic when it comes to solar power.

Following a 9-0 losing streak in their anti-solar attacks, utilities have flip-flopped to embrace solar — as long as they’re the only ones who can sell it.  

This attempt to control the solar market is not sitting well with many solar advocates. It certainly isn’t popular with T.U.S.K. (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed), an organization formed to stand up for energy choice and solar savings. Co-chaired by former U.S. Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr., T.U.S.K. believes that rooftop solar provides a competitive alternative to utilities’ monopoly — and that utilities are fighting it to protect their profits.

South Carolina

Today, T.U.S.K. issued a press release expressing opposition to Duke Energy’s efforts to control solar power generation in South Carolina.

“As Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash ponds pollute North Carolina waterways, the utility is spreading its toxicity to South Carolina in the form of blatant anti-competitive attacks on customer energy choice,” the press release stated. “Beleaguered Duke Energy and other South Carolina utilities are pushing legislation that will give them total control over solar in the state, preventing competition with their monopolies.”

The South Carolina bill is a complicated one, and it has apparently been endorsed by some solar advocates there. It would increase the amount of solar generated in the state. But that would come at the cost of utility control. According to T.U.S.K., “Ironically, Duke is advancing its anti-competitive agenda through a bill that was initially intended to promote competition and energy choice in South Carolina. Duke’s toxic bill, introduced in a Senate Subcommittee on Thursday, would permit the utilities to own and control solar panel installations on homes and businesses. In doing so, it would undermine independent, competitive rooftop solar offerings. With South Carolina’s private sector shut out of the rooftop solar market, the utilities can ensure higher profits for themselves, and that means higher prices for consumers.”

The press release continued, “Duke is holding solar energy hostage and trying to own the sun…. Duke has long opposed rooftop solar because it gives customers an alternative to the utility’s monopoly. Given recent events, Duke’s efforts to get policy-makers to extend its monopoly power into what is clearly a competitive market is especially audacious. The utility is under federal investigation for spills from its coal ash ponds in North Carolina after more than 30,000 tons of ash spilled into the Dan River earlier this year. Seventy miles of the river were coated with toxic sludge. All 14 of Duke‘s North Carolina coal ash dumps were cited last year for polluting groundwater…. The company’s relationship with its regulators is also under federal grand jury investigation. Prior to becoming North Carolina’s Governor, Pat McCrory spent nearly three decades working for Duke Energy. Recently, accusations of sweetheart deals with North Carolina’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) have surfaced and triggered grand jury subpoenas…. Now, this company with its record of environmental disasters and sweetheart deals wants South Carolina policy makers to give it a monopoly on the sun.”

South Carolina isn’t the only state where utilities are fighting for a monopoly on solar.

Washington

Utilities in the state of Washington recently lobbied for an anti-competition bill that would have banned third-party vendors from installing rooftop solar if utility monopolies offered the service. A passage in the proposed HB 2176 states, “If an electric utility offers a leased energy program, no other entity may offer leases to the utility’s customers.” The bill recently died in the legislature.

Arizona

The Arizona Capitol Times reported that Arizona Public Service (APS) has lobbied legislators directly to advocate for a tax on leased solar systems. While the utility has lobbied in the past on solar-related matters, this is the first time they are lobbying for a solar outcome that has no direct bearing on their business.