Editorial: Throwing shade on Duke’s solar initiative

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Duke Energy, our governor’s former employer and favorite monopoly utility, has been bearing the brunt of some bad press lately. First there was a lawsuit from the Southern Environmental Law Center for violations of the Clean Water Act, which had been settled by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A coal-ash debacle in Danville, Va. forced DENR to withdraw the settlement.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced this week he would neither sign nor veto a bill regulating coal ash, though it becomes law this week.

Attorney General Roy Cooper took Duke Energy before the state Supreme Court over rate increases that seem to be requested of the Utilities Commission every year or so — in 2011 the commission reduced a 17 percent requested residential rate hike to about 7 percent; in 2013 it allowed a 5 percent rate increase.

We can find no evidence of a Duke rate increase ever being outright denied by the Utilities Commission, though a rate increase in the state of Ohio was turned down in February. Duke responded by putting 13 of its Midwest power plants up for sale.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the most recent Duke Energy headline, describing the $500 million it plans to invest in solar-power facilities in North Carolina, was a sign of the company seriously working on its pubic image.

But really, it’s just PR noise. Duke has to invest in renewable power because it’s the law of the land.

Before the Democrats got drummed out of office in 2010, they managed in 2007 to pass a piece of legislation mandating that each of the state’s power companies to generate 3 percent of their electricity through renewable means like solar, wind and biofuels, a percentage which is set to rise to 12.5 percent by 2021.

In this week’s news reports, the company seemed so busy congratulating itself for embracing solar, the fact that it was legally mandated seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

Still, this $500 million investment in renewable resources is a positive thing for our state, and one of the few progressive measures that the Democrat-led General Assembly managed to pass, in between the scandals and general ineptitude, that has not been undone by the crop of Republicans who took over in 2010.

A 2013 effort to repeal the bill was voted down, which might explain why Duke didn’t make a move towards solar until now. Perhaps they were waiting to see if their former employee, the governor, could get them out of it.