Op-Ed: Advancing Sound Business Principles for NC’s Energy Market

By Susan Munroe

What’s good for North Carolina and our residents is affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy solutions that boost local economies and create jobs. House Bill 951, “Modernize Energy Generation,” which is currently being debated in the NC General Assembly, does not expand customer choices or support a competitive marketplace, which North Carolina needs in order to become an innovative, clean energy industry leader. 

Instead, it’s a continuation of an outdated monopoly utility business model and fossil fuels that may have worked in the 1950s, but not today or in the decades to come.

A long-time textile leader quoted in a recent Business North Carolina article explained it best: “When we make a poor decision, we just have to suck it up. When Duke Energy makes a poor decision, they just go and raise rates,” said Dan Nation, who oversaw manufacturing plans for most of his 42-year textile industry career with Gastonia-based Parkdale Mills,which has more than 1,000 employees across North Carolina. (Parkdale Mills is one of 31 textile companies urging legislators to oppose HB951 because of its cost impact on businesses.)

House Bill 951 would unnecessarily leave North Carolina’s citizens and businesses holding the bag — burdened by all the financial risk that comes with the expensive gas buildout outlined in the current legislation and over-earnings by utilities, which experts have predicted could result in an estimated 50% rate increase for Duke Energy customers over the next 10 years.

We are at an important crossroads when it comes to our energy sources and policy decisions by our elected officials.

Today, more than 112,000 North Carolinians are employed in our state’s clean energy sector. The NC General Assembly should be focused on legislation that supports this proven jobs growth engine. HB951 is not the answer. Instead, it perpetuates the outdated “status quo” with a heavy emphasis on expensive – not to mention dangerous – gas infrastructure that customers will be paying for long after it’s no longer in use. North Carolina communities, citizens and businesses need and deserve better.

Clean energy has brought billions of dollars of investment to our state, from the mountains to the coast, infusing new tax revenues — especially in our rural counties — for schools, roads, and emergency services. Solar projects and energy efficiency upgrades are increasing property values. The Amazon wind farm near Elizabeth City has become the largest taxpayer in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, and it’s producing clean, renewable energy for thousands of homes and businesses. 

The offshore wind industry is already providing benefits to the state, with hi-tech manufacturing and supply chain facilities producing turbine components, such as steel, fiberglass or wiring, that are being shipped & installed in projects up-and-down the East Coast. And, with recent developments that seek to accelerate the state’s commitment to offshore wind, North Carolina could reap a good size portion of the $100 billion market as we recruit more manufacturing opportunities and projects. 

North Carolina has the tools to be a clean energy industry leader, and is on a promising, profitable trajectory toward a clean, affordable energy future. Leading on this critical issue is Representative Larry Strickland (R- Johnston and Harnett) who supports studying our state’s antiquated utility model to best serve ratepayers.

HB 951 would hinder that trajectory, taking us backwards, locking North Carolina into a future laden with gas instead of one where solar and wind compete on an even marketplace playing field, driving down costs for consumers, and bolstering our economy. 

Chambers of commerce support business growth ideals including competition and free market principles. North Carolina lawmakers should consider those same economic principles as they address energy legislation.

Susan Munroe is Director of Economic Development for Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), a nationwide network of 1,300 chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, including many in North Carolina. Created and led by chamber executives, CICE works with these associations to amplify and advance the clean energy economy.