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North Carolina businesses call for a study of adding competition for electricity

Duke Energy says it needs the rate increases to pay for improvements to the electric grid.
David Boraks
Some N.C. businesses want lawmakers to pay for a study of the potential benefits of competition in the electricity market.

A coalition of businesses wants North Carolina lawmakers to fund a study of the potential benefits of introducing competition to the state's electricity market.

Nine companies and five organizations signed a letter to the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper urging the adoption of House Bill 503, which would appropriate $500,000 for such a study.

"Right now we have a market structure in North Carolina for electricity that limits innovation, limits clean energy access, limits access for customers who have specific energy goals for their businesses. And really, we just want to open up that market to more options," Reese Rogers of the Clean Energy Buyers Alliance (CEBA) said in an interview.

The letter's signers included Sierra Nevada and New Belgium breweries, Nestlé, Unilever, outdoor retailer REI, Marriott hotels, Carolina Solar Energy, Yarotek, and SJF Ventures. Besides CEBA, the organizations were Ceres, E2, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy and the Carolina Utility Customers Association.

Talk about potential market reforms has increased amid big rate increase requests from Duke Energy and concerns over rolling blackouts last December caused mainly by malfunctioning coal and gas plants that could not withstand extremely low temperatures.

A similar study for South Carolina's legislature found that introducing competition and regionalizing management of the electric grid could save ratepayers up to $362 million a year. A consultant in 2019 estimated that such a restructuring could save North Carolina ratepayers up to $600 million a year.

The bill has been stuck in the House Rules committee since March. Co-sponsors are Reps. Ed Goodwin (R-Chowan County), Kyle Hall (R-Stokes County) and John Torbett (R-Gaston County). A similar bill in 2021 never got out of committee.

Duke Energy opposes market reforms, such as a regional transmission organization, or RTO. Under that arrangement, an independent regional group coordinates, controls and monitors the electric grid over multiple states in a competitive market. Companies that belong to the system make money by sending electricity to the grid or delivering power from the grid to customers — or both.

For background on the debate, see this WFAE Climate newsletter from April, "Should NC join a regional electricity market? Duke Energy says no."

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.