The N.C. Utilities Commission has rejected a Durham advocacy group’s test of a state law that allows only utilities to directly sell renewable energy.
The group, NC WARN, installed solar panels on the roof of a Greensboro church and sold electricity to the church. In asking the commission to allow the arrangement, WARN hoped for a victory for so-called third-party sales of solar energy.
The commission rejected the petition Friday, saying the “General Assembly has determined that the public is better served by a regulated monopoly than by competing suppliers of service,” leading to low electric rates.
WARN, a persistent critic of the commission and Duke Energy, indicated it would appeal the ruling.
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“This case is going to court,” director Jim Warren said in a statement. “In other states, regulators or courts have agreed that third-party financing of rooftop solar is permissible and in the public interest.”
A bill introduced in North Carolina’s legislature last year would have let renewable energy developers sell electricity generated on customers’ property. Duke opposed the bill, which failed to gain traction, saying it would remove government oversight, expose customers to predatory pricing and pose reliability problems.
“It was clear NC WARN was acting like a public utility while ignoring all the rules to properly do so,” Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said Friday. “We’re pleased the (commission) denied the organization’s request.”
WARN installed the solar array and began sales to Faith Community Church in Greensboro without the commission’s prior approval.
“It is the General Assembly that has provided Duke its exclusive service rights, pursuant to a (certificate) issued by this commission, and NC WARN is not free to violate those rights as it has so blatantly undertaken to do,” the commission wrote.
The commission fined WARN $200 a day for each day it sold energy to the church – an amount the group estimated at $60,000 – but suspended the fines if WARN stops selling power and refunds payments the church has made.
The commission ruled that the sales constitute service to the public, a breach of Duke Energy’s exclusive service to the area. That both WARN and the church are nonprofits doesn’t justify their sales arrangement, it said.