The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether it's legal for anyone other than a public utility to sell electricity in North Carolina.
The case began in 2015 when the environmental group NC WARN installed solar panels on a Greensboro church rooftop, then began selling electricity to the church. NC WARN notified state regulators immediately, setting the stage for a legal challenge to the state's ban on so-called "third-party" sales of electricity.
It hasn't gone well for NC WARN. The North Carolina Utilities Commission and NC Court of Appeals both ruled against the organization. Then last year, the state legislature passed a bill that reaffirmed the state's prohibition on arrangements like NC WARN's with the church.
NC WARN wants to end what it calls Duke Energy's monopoly control of electricity and promote wider adoption of renewable energy sources. Director Jim Warren says he has some hope, in part, because one judge dissented in the appeals court decision. No matter the outcome, Warren thinks the system will change eventually.
“I believe it's inevitable. There are so many forces that are pushing Duke Energy toward the very future that I and a lot of other people have been fighting for for so long,” Warren said.
Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless says the state law is clear and he expects the supreme court to disallow the church solar project.
“I think what NC WARN wanted to do was it wanted to be an electric utility, but it didn't want to follow the rules and regulations of being an electric utility. I think the utilities commission saw through that and ruled against them, so did the court of appeals, and I think the Supreme Court will see it the same way,” Wheeless said.