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North Carolina ‘Energy Freedom Act’ designed to spur expansion of solar power

RALEIGH – State Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County on Monday filed legislation designed to make it easier for businesses to obtain electricity from solar power and other renewable energy resources.

It’s called The Energy Freedom Act. Szoka said it will create competition in the market for electricity.

Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican, said he has encountered resistance for his bill from Duke Energy, the largest electric utility in the state and the nation. But he touted the backing of businesses that operate in North Carolina. They want more flexibility to obtain solar power on their properties, he said.

These include Walmart, Lowe’s, Macy’s Inc., Target Family Dollar, Unilever and Cargill.

Walmart has a distribution center in Cumberland County, Cargill has a grain processing center there and Unilever has a distribution center in nearby Raeford.

Walmart and the others are allowed to purchase and install solar power equipment to produce power for their needs without Szoka’s bill. However because of the costs, Szoka said, they prefer to hire a third party to handle the solar power. The solar power provider would would install and own the the equipment on its customer’s property and charge the customer for the electricity generated.

But such electricity sales are illegal in North Carolina. “Currently, customers are required to purchase power from their monopoly utility,” Szoka’s news release says.

The legislation would make it legal for the solar power companies to sell their electricity so long as it is generated on their clients’ property.

It’s not just for solar power. Szoka’s legislation applies to wind power, low-power hydro-electric dams, generators that use biological waste such as wood waste products and animal manure, geothermal energy and other such resources, so long as they generate power at the customer’s site.

Military bases such as Fort Bragg could also take advantage of the legislation to obtain independent sources of electricity, Szoka said.

If the third party company generates more power than the customer needs, the extra power can be sold to the local utility.

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said acknowledged on Tuesday that the company has concerns about Szoka’s bill. For example, the third party providers would be exempt from many regulations that Duke must comply with.

Wheeless suggested that North Carolina should consider more a more comprehensive bill regarding electrical utilities. This could cover a variety of matters including the third party sales that Szoka’s bill covers, tax credits for solar power and sales of renewable energy electricity to the utility companies.

South Carolina passed a comprehensive bill last year, Wheeless said.