NC Should Take A Serious Look At Energy Market Reform
At CCE, we believe more opportunities can be driven by expanding customer choice and infusing competition in the energy marketplace. After all, allowing free markets to operate – in any sector – fuels innovation and often drives consumer costs down. At a time when millions of North Carolinians are struggling to pay their utility bills, solutions that will drive costs down are a welcome concept.
To address choice and competition, we’ll need to consider updating North Carolina’s approach to energy. For more than a century, our state has operated under a monopoly model that, at times, served us well. But today we have more options when it comes to how we power our lives. Clean energy technologies have advanced tremendously in the last several years, and the costs of solar and wind power have dropped, making these new ways of creating energy competitive with energy sources utilities have traditionally used. We are, as Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) said during a panel discussion last year, at a “tipping point” along our energy journey, and it’s time to start evaluating our options.
Unwinding the current model is a complex undertaking, though, and we must proceed with caution. Our friends in South Carolina recently passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis, to study pathways that would offer alternatives to the current utility monopoly structure. They’ve already begun work to identify other models and the customer impacts and cost savings that would come with each alternative. In North Carolina, Rep. Larry Strickland (R-Johnston) continues to push a bill he’s been proposing, which would evaluate similar options for the Tar Heel state.
A diverse group of stakeholders will need to work together to find the right solution for North Carolina. One would hope that the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, would want to participate in the discussion about our energy future. Duke has been on their own journey to find solutions, announcing last summer that they’d been working with a group of Southeast utilities to form a Southeast Energy Exchange Market (SEEM). It’s concerning that this plan was developed without input from anyone outside the investor-owned utility circle, but fortunately the NC Utilities Commission is getting engaged, asking for more information about what the SEEM model means for North Carolina and whether that takes other options that would have greater customer benefits off the table. We’ll be staying tuned to see how that unfolds.
North Carolina needs market-based solutions and policies that allow free markets to work like they should. Let our markets correct, impose discipline, and demand efficiency and innovation. We can work together – among stakeholder groups and perhaps even across state lines – on a model that’s more transparent, more efficient, and more affordable, creating more jobs and saving customers more money now and in the future.
Laurie Lewis Barnhart