Editorial: Duke Energy needs to keep faith with renewable energy compromise
Posted 5:00 a.m. Wednesday
Updated 8:06 a.m. Wednesday
CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017; Editorial # 8222
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Advancing North Carolina’s clean energy economy just never seems easy.
When hard-earned compromises are worked out between renewable energy interests and North Carolina’s utility monopoly Duke Energy, the deals still must overcome reflexive opposition from powerful luddites in the General Assembly.
Such was the case recently with a crucial series of reforms, worked out over nearly a year of tough negotiations. A cornerstone of the effort was a competitive bidding process for new solar development aimed at increasing competition for the renewables industry.
While renewable energy advocates say the law was designed to level the playing field because of Duke Energy’s monopoly, some now complain that Duke is using the rule-making process to increase its advantage.
The law calls for Duke to propose a structure for a competitive bidding process that would be administered by an independent third party selected by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The independent administration of the bidding process was critical to the compromise.
Now, it seems Duke has recently proposed that it nominate the candidates to act as the independent evaluators picked by the Utilities Commission. While the independent evaluators would compile a priority list of projects to be awarded bids, Duke would also compile a list. If there were differences, Duke and the evaluator would try to work out their differences, but Duke would ultimately decide the winning projects.
The renewable energy industry says this isn’t the spirit of the compromise – just another effort by the energy monopoly to control the process. Duke says its process will be transparent and the bidding will be competitive and fair. Since the energy company is responsible for providing power and operating the energy grid, it argues that it must be able to make the final decision.
During an energy policy conference in Charlotte earlier this week, legislators involved in shepherding the compromise through the General Assembly were concerned it could evaporate and jeopardize the significant potential it offered to the state’s economy.
“We don’t need lawsuits, we don’t need to be fighting each other,” said state Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, who played a leading role in forging and promoting the legislation in comments to the Charlotte Business Journal.
It is not an exaggeration, say those involved in the negotiations over the renewable energy legislation, that compromises came over specific words, even commas and periods.
Now is not the time for Duke Energy to seek to reinterpret or revise the deal.
Duke Energy should do what the law requires and the spirit of the compromise dictates, in its proposals to the Utilities Commission, and assure that those charged with overseeing the solar energy project bidding process are truly independent.
After all, no less an authority than the state Constitution warns that “monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free state.”
The commission is expected to adopt a final bidding process within the next week. It needs to assure that the bidding process is transparent and fair to all – and sticks to the spirit and letter of the compromise hammered out in the legislature.
There is no reason to allow any more clouds of controversy to dim the opportunities that can emerge from a strong clean energy economy.