Guest post by: Brian Johnson
North Carolina is already a hotbed of solar energy. Now its largest city is poised to join the trend.
Over 150 Charlotte residents and 18 social justice, faith-based and environmental organizations gathered at Myers Park Baptist Church on Saturday to call for greater access to solar energy. The event included a panel of experts, a tour of the solar installation at the church, and a “honk-and-wave” rally outside the church at a busy intersection.
At the panel, experts from a wide range of backgrounds explained how solar stands to improve public health and lower bills in Charlotte, allowing residents to take charge of their own power supply.
Panelist and former Republican state representative Shawn LeMond likened the surge in solar to the rise of cell phones over landlines, and noted the irony that more current NC politicians aren’t pro-solar.
“It’s a crying shame that, with Republicans in the Assembly and a Republican governor, we aren’t allowing the free market to work, “he said. LeMond is now COO of Sustainable Energy Community Development Company.
Panelist and Reverend Michael McClain of Creation Justice Ministries described solar as liberating struggling residents from the dominance of big utilities, such as local power company Duke Energy.
“Duke Energy has been asking Charlotte’s low-income and working-class communities to pay bills for dirty energy that is skyrocketing each year, and we think solar power is the solution,” Rev. McClain said.
North Carolina hosts the 5th-most solar capacity of any state in the nation—and over the past year, average prices of residential and commercial solar installations in the state have decreased 15%. At the same time, North Carolina’s monopoly electric utility, Duke Energy, has raised electric rates in three out of the past four years.
Solar energy also provides a boost to North Carolina’s local economy by creating jobs that can’t be outsourced. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, more than 121 solar companies currently operate in the state, and employ 1,400 people.
The other two panelists at Saturday’s event, Katie Bray of Solarize Asheville with the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute, and Jeff Deal of the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE), described how their organizations are helping people in North Carolina acquire their own solar panels.
Solarize Asheville has nearly completed its effort to bring hundreds of affordable solar panels to Asheville, NC residents, by allowing customers to collectively purchase solar panels and receive financing support from a bank to spread out the payments. AIRE organizes local citizens to invest in installations on churches and town buildings. Once the investment has paid off, the investors donate or sell cheaply the installations to the building owners.
Panel attendees had plenty of questions and comments. One resident invited the panelists to consult on and advocate for solar in her community (they accepted). Another resident asked how citizens could best manage opposition from Duke Energy, which fears that distributed solar could break apart its hundred-year-old monopoly.
After touring the host church’s own solar facility, residents took their demands for solar to the sidewalk for a “honk-and-wave” rally. Raising signs and repeating Charlotte-themed chants like “We’ve got banks, we know money, solar makes sense and we want plenty!” the rally attendees earned dozens of honks from drivers-by, and attracted the attention of two local TV channels.
When all was said and done, residents left with pro-solar yard signs, and high hopes that their homes and buildings would finally take part in the solar revolution.
If you missed our event, check out the video coverage here.
Thank you to all of the non-profit co-sponsors of the Cleaner is Cheaper: Solar Panel event:
A Phillip Randolph Institute, Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy, Center for Community Change, Charlotte Environmental Action, Clean Air Carolina, Myers Park Baptist Church Earth Keepers, Environment North Carolina, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters – Charlotte, League of Women Voters – Charlotte, NAACP Charlotte, NC Conservation Network, NC Interfaith Power and Light, Shift the Climate, Sierra Club – Piedmont Chapter, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Sustain Charlotte, and US Green Building Council North Carolina