From an editorial in Friday’s (Greensboro) News & Record:
This week’s court ruling against a Greensboro church’s solar-power deal shouldn’t be the last word on the matter.
Durham nonprofit NC WARN, which promotes clean energy, installed solar panels on the roof of Faith Community Church and sold the electricity generated to the church for the bargain price of 5 cents per kilowatt/hour. Duke Energy contended the arrangement encroaches on its monopoly as a regulated utility.
The N.C. Utilities Commission agreed, and in a 2-1 decision Tuesday, so did the N.C. Court of Appeals. But the dissenting opinion, written by Judge Chris Dillon, justifies a further appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court. A different outcome there is certainly possible.
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This case presents new circumstances and can address the legal questions arising from small, off-the-grid renewable energy developments.
State law was written for the era of big energy plants. Does it allow for small-scale projects like the one on the roof of Faith Community Church? If not, shouldn’t it be updated?
The Court of Appeals decision hinged on the meaning of a public utility. The majority judges, Hunter Murphy and Donna Stroud, contended that NC WARN’s action of installing solar equipment and selling power to the church made it just such an entity. As such, it violated the Public Utilities Act, which “establishes regional monopolies on the sale of electricity.” The law, Murphy wrote, “precludes retail electric competition.”
In his dissent, Dillon focused on a basic test of whether NC WARN was acting as a public utility: Was it serving the public? He concluded that by generating power for a single customer, it was not.