Energy Bill Help and Access to Clean Energy Part of Settlement Approved by N.C. Utilities Commission

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – An order by the N.C. Utilities Commission in Duke Energy Carolinas’ most recent rate case included approval of a settlement agreement that the North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Housing Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, reached with Duke Energy and the NC Sustainable Energy Association. The settlement will help households earning a low- to moderate-income control their energy bills, while promoting greater access to clean energy for all North Carolinians.

In the settlement approved by the commission, Duke Energy agreed to contribute $6 million to the Helping Home Fund, which supplements the federal Weatherization Assistance Program by providing energy efficiency and critical health and safety repairs to households earning a low-income.

“We very much appreciate Duke’s willingness to provide continued support for the Helping Home Fund, especially given the incredible hardship many families are facing at this time,” said Al Ripley, director of the Housing, Consumer and Energy project at the North Carolina Justice Center.

Duke also agreed to collaborate with the settling parties on a program to help customers finance energy efficiency upgrades or rooftop solar projects, and on energy efficiency programs specifically targeted to customers earning a low- to moderate-income. The settlement also includes provisions to improve electric grid planning and to enhance transparency for independent solar producers wanting to connect to Duke’s grid.

"COVID times have really put a pinch on North Carolina families, so the savings that are reflected in energy bills as a result of this settlement are a big deal," said Luis Martinez, director, Southeast Energy, Climate & Clean Energy Program, NRDC. “The settlement is a positive step towards clean energy that works for everyone, even as more work needs to be done to fix Duke’s regressive fixed fee rate structure that impacts families struggling to pay their electric bills. Regulators now need to ratchet up the policies North Carolina needs to slash pollution from coal and gas plants and rapidly transition to clean energy from wind and solar.”

The groups did not resolve an ongoing dispute with Duke Energy Carolinas about issues relating to the way grid costs are allocated, which unfairly burdens residential customers. The groups will continue to push for a reduction in the mandatory fees that all residential customers must pay 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.

“Our goal was to get Duke to think about how the costs and rate structures in this rate case impact their residential customers, particularly households earning a low-to-moderate income. 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.”

As part of its rate case, Duke Energy proposed a “Grid Improvement Plan” made up of investments in its transmission and distribution grid. The commission approved 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 settlement approved by the commission will provide much-needed relief to families struggling to pay their electric bills, through energy efficient upgrades and assistance with critical health and safety repairs,” said David Neal, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This decision will help move North Carolina towards an affordable clean energy future and lessen our reliance on polluting fossil fuels.”

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About the Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

About the North Carolina Housing Coalition

Since 1988, the North Carolina Housing Coalition has been working ensure that every North Carolinian has a home in which to live with dignity and opportunity. The Coalition meets its mission by convening, resourcing, and mobilizing affordable housing professionals, communities impacted by a lack of affordability, and the broader public to pursue policies at the local, state, and federal levels that improve the supply, quality, and access of affordable housing in North Carolina. Learn more at nchousing.org.

About the North Carolina Justice Center

The North Carolina Justice Center is one of the state’s preeminent voices for economic and social justice. The Justice Center’s mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services, and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. Learn more at ncjustice.org.

About the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Since 1985, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible and equitable energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at cleanenergy.org.

About NRDC

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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