Duke University supports the legalization of third-party energy sales in North Carolina, according to an open letter by Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.  

Schoenfeld wrote to North Carolina Rep. John Szoka April 20 urging the adoption of legislation that would permit third-party energy sales, which allow property owners to purchase electricity directly from renewable energy companies. North Carolina is currently one of five states in the U.S. that prohibits the practice. 

Freshman Claire Wang—leader of Duke Seize the Grid and RE-Act, two Duke Climate Coalition campaigns centered on renewable energy—said that DCC met with Schoenfeld and other administrators earlier in the semester to encourage the University to publicly support the measure. DCC also delivered 250 photo petitions and 250 signatures from students admitted to the Class of 2020, gathered at Blue Devil Days, to Schoenfeld’s office April 12. 

“The goal of this is to be the first time that Duke will have advocated specifically for renewable energy policies in the legislature,” Wang said. “What we really wanted to do was to utilize Duke’s role in North Carolina—we’re one of the largest employers in the state.”

Wang said that the legalization of third-party energy sales would be “a key driver of the growth of solar power” by allowing energy consumers to enter into power purchase agreements and buy electricity not just from utility companies, but from renewable energy producers themselves. 

“Such partnerships can significantly reduce up-front installation costs, making renewable energy much more affordable and, in many cases, cheaper than buying energy directly from a utility,” Schoenfeld wrote in the letter. “This could potentially benefit individuals as well as nonprofit entities seeking a cost-efficient way to engage in sustainable energy practices through the use of federal investment tax credits and other tools.”

Schoenfeld also noted in the letter that legislation for third-party energy sales could help grow the renewable energy industry and create new jobs in North Carolina. 

“If third party energy sales were legalized, it would give Duke many more options about where our electricity comes from because currently, it’s completely contingent upon what Duke Energy and other utility companies decide to include in their energy mix,” Wang added.

Duke Climate Coalition’s efforts began this Fall when it launched a campaign called Seize the Grid with the goal of having 100 percent renewable energy on campus by 2030, Wang said. However, after meeting with Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and other administrators and learning that renewable energy on campus is currently not economically feasible, the group began the RE-Act campaign, which focuses on changing energy policies in North Carolina.

The University currently has solar water heaters on top of the Bryan Center and solar panels on the Environment Hall, where the Nicholas School of the Environment is housed, but no large-scale renewable energy projects, Wang said.

The letter also states that the University has made a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2024 through “internal operational changes, community-wide initiatives, investments in innovative offsets with public and private partners and working with our electricity supplier to encourage reductions in emissions over time.”

Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, explained that the Duke’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions result from transportation and power usage on campus.

“Duke energy emissions are reducing but are not going to zero anytime in the next decade,” he said.

To work toward a net zero carbon footprint, the University created the Duke Carbon Offset Initiative to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, Profeta said. According to DCOI’s website, the University will need to offset approximately 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent-emissions per year to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2024.

Profeta noted that Duke is very aggressive in terms of carbon offsetting compared to other institutions.

“I don’t know that anyone else has gone out and built their own carbon reductions process,” he said.

Schoenfeld's full letter can be viewed below:

Schoenfeld Third-Party Energy Sales Letter