It is a mystery why libertarian types perpetually promoting free markets and consumer choice always attempt to use government they claim to hate to both prohibit competition and maintain long-standing monopolies. That is the case in North Carolina, one of the rare states in the nation that does not allow third-party electricity generation. In North Carolina, Duke Energy, the Heartland Institute, the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have recently targeted a small neighborhood church for having the temerity to “buck Duke Energy” and get their electricity from the Sun instead of dirty Duke Energy. Being very ardent free market advocates, Duke Energy are beside themselves and called on the Republican state government to intervene and impose some serious daily fines to maintain its monopoly on electrical power generation in the state; and make a statement that North Carolinians embracing inexpensive clean solar energy do so at their financial peril.
In North Carolina, the above-listed dirty fossil fuel proponents apparently regard the Sun as a “third-party electricity generator” and they are pursuing very substantial fines against a Greensboro church because they installed 20 solar panels on the roof and are not paying Duke Energy for the electricity being generated by that clean source of electrical power, the Sun.
The non-denominational Faith Community Church partnered with an environmental social justice group, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NC WARN), to install the solar panels, save on electrical bills, and preserve the environment. A senior pastor at the small Greensboro church, the Reverend Nelson Johnson, really summed up a sentiment that reasonable humans embrace that, “This giant monopoly, Duke Energy, should not be entitled to the energy from the sun, which God has given to all of us.” Now leaving the “god” out of the equation, the pastor is right; giant monopoly or not, no entity, not Duke Energy or Koch Industries is entitled to monopolize solar energy or prohibit. However, it is something the Koch brothers’ various legislative arms and their dirty energy cohorts are pushing across the nation.
Over the past couple of months, there has been an increase in the number of North Carolina residents equipping their buildings with newer, inexpensive solar power panels. That prompted a corporation found guilty of poisoning the air and water, especially in North Carolina, to call on regulators to punish a church and a local non-profit environmental advocate using a bastardized interpretation of a law created with the express intent of protecting Duke Energy’s monopoly on providing power.
At issue is a law allowing Duke Energy to monopolize power generation in North Carolina. The corporate giant claims the law it prohibits anyone besides the major utility companies from selling electricity. Although the Duke Energy law is not, on its face, an “outright ban on consumer solar panels, it’s very close and it’s backed by the influential energy giant Duke Energy.” The law was likely created by Duke Energy, or one of its affiliate legislative arms ALEC and the Heartland Institute, and yet another attempt to control the Sun similarly to a recent Koch assault on solar power in Florida.
Duke Energy is very angry with NC WARN, a small non-profit, for installing about 20 solar panels on the “largely African American” Faith Community Church, and then selling them very inexpensive electrical power. It is, by any sense, “free market capitalism” in action and one might be inclined to believe it is precisely what Duke Energy and their dirty fossil fuel brethren the Kochs would embrace as dyed-in-the-wool anti-government regulation and free market libertarians. But when the real free market encroaches on dirty energy profits, the libertarians run to government regulators for protection and financial redress by banning “third parties” (citizens) from accessing the Sun’s clean energy.
A spokesman for Duke Energy, Randy Wheeless, revealed that the dirty corporation is suddenly extremely interested in government regulation and intervention in “free markets” and is appealing for enforcement of a questionable law instead of deliberately breaking myriad valid federal environmental law by poisoning the environment. Wheeless said,
“The law is clear in North Carolina. If you want to sell power in the state, that makes you a utility and subject to all the regulations that come with that role. That’s why Duke has called on state regulators to impose a $1,000 fine on the non-profit NC WARN for every day its 20 solar panels are connected. That would amount to more than $120,000.”
In appealing to regulators to impose stiff financial penalties on NC Warn, Duke Energy is asking the Republican government regulators to cripple the small nonprofit dedicated to combating climate change. The executive director of NC WARN, Jim Warren, said that “The stakes are high and they (Duke Energy) certainly don’t want competition.” Duke hopes to financially break the small advocacy group to finally shut down the threatening environmental non-profit and cement their power generating monopoly.
North Carolina was making headway as a solar energy leader that caught the Koch brothers’ attention two years ago. As their legislative arms ALEC and Heritage Action has done in several other Republican states, the Kochs unleashed a flurry of vicious attacks on renewable energy standards in North Carolina. In fact, the Heartland Institute, ALEC, and Koch-backed Grover Norquist have lobbied hard against renewable energy policy by and pushing ALEC’s “model legislation” to abolish those standards for the Kochs, Duke Energy and their fossil fuel cabal. A well-known ALEC member, Representative Mike Hager, introduced House Bill 298, “The Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” with the sole intent of completely repealing North Carolina’s renewable energy standard.
It is glaringly apparent that there is no group too small to be a target of the Kochs or their fossil fuel cohort, and has proven particularly true when it comes to solar power. In the North Carolina case, both the small church and NC WARN hope they can send a message that no-one can monopolize something like the Sun, but while they are enthralled by their admirable and courageous challenge, they should remember they are courting danger in North Carolina. A state with a legislature dominated by ALEC Republicans, and a Republican governor who was a valuable and dedicated employee of Duke Energy for 28 years.
If nothing else, the small community church and local environmental non-profit deserve congratulations for making a courageous stand for the climate in a state like North Carolina. They also deserve a warning that they have now got the undivided attention of two extremely powerful energy giants whose laser focus is now imposing heavy penalties for daring to defy fossil fuel in a state like North Carolina.