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By Juan Bacigalupi

Duke Energy and The Energy Freedom Act

The Energy Freedom Act, which would have opened the door to third party solar vendors, died in committee after strong opposition from Duke Energy and their lobbyists. Now, as legislators prepare to push for a similar bill to pass, it is worth taking a closer look at each side's arguments.

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's view is that it doesn't oppose solar energy, or even necessarily third-party sales, but rather what it refers to as "single-shot issues." Indeed, Duke's concerns were echoed by other utility companies, such as ElectriCities, back when the bill was being considered. Single-shot issues refers to legislative action that deals with only one part of the energy conversation, in this case third-party sales, as opposed to dealing with all the issues. Other issues that are part of this conversation are things like tax credits or net metering. Duke would prefer to see legislative action address all these issues at once.

Duke Energy also expressed concern that third-party solar sales could hurt low-income communities by causing rate increases. However, Duke Energy appears to have no problem with third-party sales per se, since it bought controlling shares in REC Solar, a California based solar company, and conducts solar sales in other states.

Energy Freedom Act supporters

The Energy Freedom Act had numerous supporters. The most notable among them were environmentalists and renewable energy supporters. Their view is that Duke Energy's opposition was not based on legislative efficiency, but rather that it was a delay tactic meant to continue Duke Energy's monopoly on energy sales in North Carolina. Duke Energy's opposition was widely criticized and protested by environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, who claimed the energy company was blocking people's access to solar energy.

The support for this bill ultimately created some unique bed fellows. It is interesting that major corporations, such as Wal-Mart, Target, Volvo and Macy's, all supported the bill. They claim that third-party solar sales could allow them to avoid up-front expenditures. It is certainly worth noting since these corporate supporters are not typically found on the same side as environmental groups like Greenpeace. It is also worth noting that the Energy Freedom Act was put forth by a Republican, State Representative John Szoka.

A final look

Although the bill died, the issue did not die. Representative Szoka expressed disappointment when the bill failed to make it out of committee, and has stated that he hopes to have a similar bill passed early next year. He is not alone in his desire to see alternative energy options. Over 70 percent of North Carolinians polled expressed support for tax-incentives for renewable energy options and third-party sales. However, Rep. Szoka still faces opposition in the State House, and if bills similar to the Energy Freedom Act surface again they will likely face strong opposition from Duke Energy as well.

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