Francis Koster: Response to Duke on solar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 20, 2016

By Francis Koster

Special to the Post

On Monday, April 18, Lynn Good, the president of Duke Energy released an article she wrote called “Solving the low carbon puzzle,” which was published in many North Carolina papers. It was a fine example of how street magicians trick you by keeping your eyes on one hand while doing mischief with the other.

Ms. Good said that electric utilities have a real challenge facing them as electricity made at a customer’s home or business has to flow two ways in the grid to get to neighbors. That is true, and not a surprise. It is cheaper for the homeowner.

We are now able to buy solar shingles you can put on your roof, skyscraper windows that make electricity, vastly improved windmills, rapidly falling battery prices, and a host of other technologies that make locally produced, clean electricity cheaper than the old (heavily subsidized) way of doing things. These prices will continue to fall.

These new technologies threaten to change the role of the grid — and of Duke —and the response is sleight-of-hand.

Ms. Good says that Duke has spent more than $4 billion on solar and wind since 2007. It did not have to be that way. In North Carolina, Duke has frustrated many homeowners and organizations and kept them from installing their own solar by setting a low price Duke will pay them for solar power generated electricity — particularly when the public health costs and environmental costs are factored in.

Duke invested in renewable energy because it was a good investment — for them. And they made it hard for you to do the same for the same reason — it was good for them.

Duke has a real challenge — their organizational structure is geared toward large central generation, when the future will have many small decentralized sources. Setting the stage for the use of clean, low-cost solar by upgrading the grid is a job for both the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission and Duke.

The way is clear — it is the will that is lacking. Watch the other hand.

Francis Koster set up and ran the Renewable Energy Programs at the Tennessee Valley Authority during President Jimmy Carter’s term.