It's critical to think about the issues informing our vote during election season. As Durham residents, we want our city to play a leading role in combating the dangerous, life-threatening effects of climate change. Instead of a future of heat, hurricanes, and hardship, we want a future with a healthy environment and thousands of good, new jobs that will transition us to a better world for our children and grandchildren. This future depends on us having renewable energy produced without climate-warming CO2 and methane and clean and efficient transportation.
After months of work by PA’s Environment and Climate Justice Action Team members, the City Council on October 5th passed new and improved agreements with Duke Energy, Durham’s energy provider. These agreements create promising new paths toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from our city’s electricity supply.
Efforts to encourage these changes from PA members have included lots of emails, the service of some members on a special advisory committee convened by the mayor, and the distribution of a petition co-sponsored by Durham Grandparents and Parents for Action on Climate Change, Sunrise Durham, the Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club, and the Earth Justice Action Group of the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. More than 900 people signed the petition. Mayor Steve Schewel and the members of Durham’s Environmental Affairs Board provided crucial help in finalizing these agreements.
Changes for the better for families and the climate
Durham’s franchise agreement with Duke Energy is a legally binding document that details the nuts and bolts of how Duke Energy provides electricity to our city — things like access to transmission lines, providing emergency services, etc. It’s wonky stuff, but one important change in the document stands out:
- Clean Power. In a move towards greater energy democracy, Durham can now generate and manage its own electricity. This means the city doesn’t need to be as dependent on dirty fossil fuel energy from Duke Energy and can make plans to invest more in its own clean, renewable sources to move us towards a more sustainable energy future.
The Memorandum of Understanding that accompanies the new franchise agreement is not legally binding but includes these important items:
- Affordability. Duke has agreed to partner with the city to develop pilot projects that aim to improve the energy efficiency of homes and apartments in low-income neighborhoods. Duke Energy also agrees to collaborate to design a pilot on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency upgrades.
- Solar access. Duke will partner with Durham to develop community solar projects that would enable broader adoption of renewable energy by Durham.
- Resiliency. Duke also agreed to investigate the use of microgrids coupled with battery storage to improve the resiliency of Durham’s electric grid.
Find the agreement and MOU here under item #27.
Cleaner, cheaper energy
If implemented, these changes would help reduce the cost of energy bills for Durham families and create a more secure, sustainable energy system. For example, with on-bill financing of energy improvements, contractors working for Duke Energy would do an energy audit of a house, then make the improvements that would save the largest amounts of energy. The cost of those improvements would be paid for over time through a charge on the house's Duke Energy bill. But reduced energy use would create financial savings that would more than offset the charge for making the improvements.
The latest scientific predictions that say the world must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% in this decade to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us that nature can wreak havoc on the world — disproportionately so on poor people and people of color — when we are not prepared. We need to make the most of these promising new possibilities for Durham’s energy future to help avoid such catastrophe with climate change. At the least, this will involve PA monitoring and lobbying both the city and Duke Energy to ensure that these new possibilities become reality!
Stay tuned for more ways to get engaged. If you want to join this work immediately, email Tom Campbell at [email protected].