North Carolina Activists Stand Up To Duke Energy

VICTORY MAY BE CLOSER THAN YOU THINK.

Did you ever think protest was ineffective? Here in Asheville, even the threat of a small protest by a few people has derailed an important event that mammoth Duke Energy was planning in the coming week. We still have much work to do to stop their implementation ofObama’s Clean Power plan. But in Round One, we who have just begin to create the fledgling NC Power Forward declare victory.  Here’s the scoop.

Duke Energy is the largest utility in the US with assets of over $100 billion. It is the largest single emitter of green house gases. It emits 1.84 % of all GHG’s in the US. It is the 12th largest emitter of toxic water pollution. Although it is good at providing reliable electricity, it is a dangerous monster juggernaut corporation.

In NC it has rigged our political system. Our governor, Pat McCrory worked for Duke for 28 years. Ed Finley, who leads the NC Utilities Commission, did legal work for Duke before being appointed to the Commission. Duke is a “regulated” monopoly, which means it is guaranteed a profit on all its operations, including construction of new facilities. It also means that in NC third parties can sell electricity to no one other than Duke. Some in the City of Asheville would like the City to become its own municipal utility and sell power. (Boulder, Colorado has done this). But in NC that is illegal. This past January North Carolina, under pressure from ALEC and the Koch Brothers, among others, put an end to tax credits on home solar installations, which some in the power industry fear will challenge the utilities’ monopolies..

Even though it refuses to and probably cannot provide documentation proving it is needed, Duke has recently proposed what it calls an Energy Modernization Plan, which centers on building a 752 MW gas fired power plant in Asheville. It has also proposed building a total of about 11,000 MW of new gas fired power in the rest of the state. Of course, whether this power is needed or not is of no concern to Duke. It is guaranteed a 10% profit on construction.  And of course, Duke is not concerned that the price of gas, now very low, may increase 10 times in the next ten years. It is guaranteed a 10% profit on operations. The higher the price of gas goes, the more money Duke makes. (and of course, the more the people of NC will be impoverished).

RECENT PROTESTS

Many people think it is futile to take on a monster corporation of this size. But this being Asheville,  and with the train wreck that is climate change coming at us so unremittingly, challenge it we must. A couple of weeks ago about 200 people showed up in Asheville for a Public Utilities Commission hearing about Duke’s proposal for a new 752 MW gas fired power plant.  Only one of them spoke in favor of Duke’s proposal.  About sixty others spoke against it. Some of us staged a protest for two hours at the hearing, standing prominently with tee shirts that read “NO GAS”.

Then last Saturday morning, February 20,  25 of us , including an Asheville City Councillor, rallied at Asheville City Hall at 9 am. From there we started a ten mile walk which ended 6 hours later at Lake Julian in Skyland, the site of Duke’s existing coal fired power plant and the proposed site of its new 752 MW facility. After that, on Monday, nine of us from different parts of the state descended on a NC Public Utilities Commission meeting in Raleigh where Duke’s proposals were being considered. Led off by a 16 year old who took over the meeting by interrupting the Commissioners’ staff in mid-sentence, Anna Farlessyost forcefully argued that her generation’s futures will likely be endangered if the Utilities Commission permits Duke’s new facility. After police forced her out of that meeting, the rest of  repeatedly disrupted the hearing over the next three hours. (Below is a 45 second video of Anna’s interruption and the police response:

ROUND ONE VICTORY

And then, an even more interesting thing happened. Word leaked out on Tuesday that Duke’s NC President David Fountain was hosting a public meeting with Asheville’s leaders and officials to talk about and celebrate Duke’s plans and role in the local community.   Thinking this might be a very good time to act again, some of us from NC Power Forward registered with Duke to get tickets. But within a day we were informed that  “This is an invitation-only meeting and we can’t accommodate any additional guests at this time.” (We scouted the room where the event was to take place and there  was space for at least 500 people).  So immediately we began to organize what would likely have been a small picket and protest outside the event.

And then, almost immediately, VICTORY! Even before we had been able to schedule a meeting to discuss plan our protest, Duke cancelled its celebration. For some reason Duke assumed someone might disrupt their party and scuttled this event.
\A 100 billion dollar corporation, which to some extent runs the state of North Carolina, which  gets away with being the largest emitter of green house gases in the country, cancels a meeting because a few people talk about protesting a speech by their president? This shows that we have more power than we know, and that Duke, in spite of all its enormous wealth and control over state officials, is terrified that we may bring them down.

So let’s do it. If we can stop their party we can stop their  “Energy Modernization Plan.”

THE CAMPAIGN CONTINUES

We lost Round 2 of this struggle: On Monday, Feburary 29, the NC Utilities Commission approved permits for Duke’s Asheville new gas fired power plant. We also heard today the tragic  news that indigenous activist Berta Carceres in Honduras was murdered because of her resistance to large scale energy development in her country.

Her struggle, our struggle in NC, and the struggles against deadly and dangerous corporate energy giants internationally are one and the same.

There will be many more rounds, and many more opportunities to bring these giants down. Tomorrow activists from all over NC are gathering here to form a statewide coalition to continue the battle in NC.

As Pablo Neruda said, “They can cut down all the flowers, but they can’t keep the spring from coming.”