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Dueling Ad Campaigns Focus On Legislation Affecting Duke Energy

David Boraks / WFAE
Sheep graze around solar panels at a Duke Energy solar farm in Union County. Environmentalists want Duke to speed up its shift to renewable energy.

Duke Energy is at the center of another ad campaign in the debate over how North Carolina's energy system should evolve.

Two environmental groups - the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund - say they're spending "six-figures" on cable TV and online ads targeting Duke. They call on legislators to "hold Duke Energy accountable" for retiring coal-fired power plants and speeding up solar and wind power construction.

Earlier this month, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good told Wall Street analysts the company expects lawmakers to pass legislation this year that would affect "North Carolina's clean energy transition as well as the regulatory reforms that provide for timely recovery of these investments."

"We continue to see momentum from a broad range of stakeholders to make progress on these objectives in 2021, and we remain optimistic for comprehensive energy legislation this year, aligned with our shared goals of generation transition and regulatory reforms needed to enable that change," Good said.

There's still not a specific bill, though lawmakers could insert new text into an existing bill that achieves Duke's goals, said Dan Crawford of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. He says negotiations on a bill are happening behind closed doors, and without input from Gov. Roy Cooper, environmental groups consumer advocates.

"I think you have to have a golden ticket to be invited to the negotiations of that bill. It's been talked about a little bit in public. But the details of what's in that bill remain a secret to just about anybody that's not in the room. And so that's kind of what we're trying to put a little light on," Crawford said of the ad campaign.

Last week, a Duke-backed group, Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future, began Facebook ads attacking two state representatives for their support of a bill that would study energy market reforms that Duke doesn't like.

In particular, the legislation wants to look at new "market structures," which could include introducing competition for electricity generation. To do that, North and South Carolina and possibly other states would form what's called a "regional transmission organization." That system would distribute power from competing energy companies.

Duke spokeswoman Grace Trilling Rountree did not comment directly on legislation, saying only that Duke looks forward to working on "a balanced energy transition plan" that maintains reliability and affordability.

"North Carolina families are benefitting from the cleaner energy transition underway and have access to reliable electricity at rates significantly below the national average," Rountree said in an email.

Copyright WFAE 2021. For more go to WFAE.org

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.