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Civil War At Duke Energy?

In 2013, rooftop solar battles had two clear sides: a burgeoning solar industry bringing clean, renewable energy and consumer choice to the masses; and the monopoly utility industry looking to salvage its profit margins. After going undefeated in these battles, the solar industry is on a roll, building grassroots coalitions, and growing stronger than ever. Meanwhile, it appears that big energy insiders are eating their own and struggling with internal conflict.

The most obvious example right now is the case of North Carolina’s Duke Energy. Recently, Duke CEO Lynn Good has been on a media warpath against net metering. A rooftop solar advocacy group, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), posted this recap on CleanTechnica last week.

rooftop solar installerIn case you’re not familiar with net metering, it’s a policy in 43 states — including North Carolina — that gives rooftop solar customers full retail credit for the excess energy they deliver back to the grid. Utilities then sell this energy at the full retail rate to the neighbors, even though it doesn’t cost the utilities a dime to generate, transmit, or distribute that energy. But as more and more consumers embrace rooftop solar, energy demand decreases across the board, and utilities lose revenue.

As the TASC piece points out, Good’s talking points are straight from the big energy playbook set forth by the utility trade association Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Utilities like Duke seek to eliminate net metering to stifle rooftop solar and protect their monopolies.

It appears as though former Duke CEO and Chairman Jim Rogers has a bit more vision than that. After running Duke for nearly a decade, Rogers has suddenly come out strong in support of more distributed energy and fewer large power plants. After receiving the Charlotte Business Journal’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in the energy industry, Rogers told the Journal the key to success in any industry is to “run to the challenge and embrace the change.” He also had this telling comment from someone who’s spent a quarter century as a utility executive: “I think in the next decade to 15 years, this industry is going to be very different from the one you see today.”

This has all the markings of a warning shot at Good and other utility executives, alerting them to the need to embrace rooftop solar and other renewable energy markets. Let’s see if they get the message. If not, it looks as though Rogers is ready to set them straight.

Rooftop solar installer image via Shutterstock

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Written By

is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.


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