The Southern Environmental Law Center recently reached a partial settlement with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and Duke Energy in the company’s current rate cases. SELC negotiated the settlement on behalf of the North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Housing Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“This agreement will provide much-needed relief through energy efficient upgrades and assistance with critical health and safety repairs to households struggling to make ends meet,” said Senior Attorney Gudrun Thompson. “This agreement will also help move North Carolina towards a clean energy future and lessen our reliance on polluting fossil fuels.”
“We appreciate the partnership between organizations that are committed to ending poverty and increasing affordable housing with those pushing for clean energy. These goals must go hand in hand.”
—Sharon Goodson, Executive Director, North Carolina Community Action Association
The settlement includes a $6 million contribution to the Helping Home fund, which is administered by the North Carolina Community Action Association and pays for energy-efficient upgrades and critical health and safety repairs for customers struggling to make ends meet. It also includes commitments and provisions to:
- Develop additional new energy efficiency programs for customers with low income;
- Develop a tariffed on-bill program to help households finance energy-efficiency and rooftop solar investments; and
- Improve planning and enhance transparency for independent solar producers wanting to interconnect to the Duke electric grid.
Sharon Goodson, Executive Director of the North Carolina Community Action Association, reflected on the power of the intersectional coalition that brought this win to reality. “We appreciate the partnership between organizations that are committed to ending poverty and increasing affordable housing with those pushing for clean energy. These goals must go hand in hand,” said Goodson.
“Our goal was to get Duke to think about how the costs and rate structures in this rate case impact their residential customers, particularly low-to-moderate income households. In that respect, we feel that this outcome is a success,” said Heather Pohnan, energy policy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Although Duke could go much further by taking action on its regressive fixed fee rate structure, we appreciate its willingness to better existing programs, as well as explore new energy efficiency program designs that will lower bills for more customers.”
“We very much appreciate Duke’s willingness to provide continued support for the Helping Home Fund, especially given the incredible hardship many low-income families are facing at this time,” said Al Ripley, Director of the Housing, Consumer and Energy project at the North Carolina Justice Center.
As part of the rate cases, Duke proposed a “Grid Improvement Plan” made up of investments in its transmission and distribution grid. In the settlement, the groups agreed to support favorable accounting treatment for some of the Grid Improvement Plan’s costs—those most directly related to integrating low-cost, clean renewable energy resources into the grid. The groups reserved the right to challenge the reasonableness of those costs in a future rate case.
SELC and the groups it represents did not resolve an ongoing dispute with Duke Energy about issues relating to the way costs are allocated, which unfairly burdens residential customers. The groups continue to push for a reduction in the residential fixed charge to better reflect the actual costs of connecting a customer to the grid. A reduction in that fixed charge would help households struggling with their electric bills and would increase the value of energy efficiency and rooftop solar investments for all.
“We look forward to working with Duke Energy and other stakeholders on critical affordability issues, exploring solutions like rate designs for low-income customers who are behind on paying their electric bills,” said SELC’s Thompson. “The economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic makes these affordability issues all the more important.”
Next, this partial settlement will be sent to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for review and approval.