A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Duke Energy Goes After Solar in South Carolina

04/02/2014 02:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2014

After suffering nine straight losses in attempts to eliminate solar net metering over the past 18 months, the utilities are flip flopping completely on rooftop solar. Now they claim to love it, as long as they're the only ones who can sell it. In South Carolina, solar advocates supported a bill that would allow third-party leasing for the first time in the state, and in doing so, promote competition. Duke Energy took the bill and added a clever poison pill: Now the bill allows for solar leasing, but stifles its chance to take root in the market by also allowing Duke and the other South Carolina monopoly utilities to own and control solar panel installations on homes and businesses. Monopoly ownership of rooftop solar allows utilities to secure profits by shutting down any potential private sector market before it starts.

Remember your childhood fables? A wolf in sheep's clothing is still a wolf. These monopoly utilities disguising themselves as solar advocates are still just monopolies looking out for their bottom lines.

Note the wolf's fangs hidden under that fake pink nose. In North Carolina, Duke Energy recently caused one of the largest environmental disasters in modern history, polluting more than 70 miles of the state's Dan River with more than 30,000 tons of toxic coal ash. Even worse, its relationship with regulators is under federal grand jury investigation. Duke faces accusations of cozying up to the North Carolina Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) and the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to form sweetheart deals and skirt appropriate, serious penalties for previous environmental violations. This is not an animal that South Carolina's policymakers or consumers want in their backyards.

Note that a wolf's faux white wool can't conceal its raised hackles. A Duke Energy spokesperson was quoted in The State saying that the new South Carolina 'compromise' is "comprehensive, collaborative and forward looking. If this bill becomes law, South Carolina can be the national model for how solar growth can be successful and fair to all stakeholders." The original bill was intended to encourage competition and support energy choice for all customers in South Carolina. Duke's revisions to the bill make it anti-competitive and anti-solar. That's not "fair" to South Carolina consumers or the state's free market economy, but it protects Duke's antiquated monopoly so apparently it's "fair" to Duke.

Duke Energy is already toxic and North Carolina will feel the repercussions for years. We cannot afford to let South Carolina fall prey to Duke's toxicity and backhanded dealings. If it walks like a wolf, talks like a wolf and looks like a wolf in every other state, it's a wolf.