The writer is executive director of DC Solar United Neighborhoods and its parent nonprofit the Community Power Network.
In April, the giant nuclear electricity company Exelon announced plans to buy Pepco, the electricity utility that serves Maryland and Washington. Coming on the heels of a 2012 takeover of Constellation Energy and its subsidiary Baltimore Gas and Electric, the deal will make Exelon the dominant utility in our region. And with its recent takeovers of utilities in Chicago and Philadelphia, Exelon would become the biggest power distributor in the United States, should the deal go through.
For that to happen, the Public Service Commissions in the District and Maryland must approve it, finding that the deal serves the “public interest.”
My group, DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN), believes this deal is bad for local citizens. It would lead to higher prices and a lower quality of service. Worse, it would restrict our ability to generate more power locally using solar and wind technologies. We therefore call on the Public Service Commissions to block this deal.
DC SUN represents thousands of families, businesses and community organizations. We believe local solar and wind power is the best way to lower energy prices, deal with the childhood asthma health crisis, create local jobs and address climate change.
The District is one of the country’s most solarized cities, as solar electric and solar thermal technologies are extensively used here already. We believe alternative technologies can generate a third of the District’s energy by 2030.
From working with Pepco we know that reaching this goal requires the local utility to be a partner, willing to work through the challenge of integrating new technologies and conservation techniques. Based on Exelon’s history and interests, we believe it will fight to make sure we never achieve our goal.
Exelon has a long record of opposing solar and wind power. This includes vociferous opposition to the federal tax credit for wind energy and the use of hardball tactics to block a popular effort to expand the Illinois solar market.
Why? Exelon is the biggest U.S. nuclear power plant owner. Its main goal is to sell nuclear power. But nuclear energy offers little flexibility in how it produces power, so — unlike natural gas — it does not fit well with the dynamic, renewable-friendly grid of the near future.
Exelon also spends millions on lobbying and direct campaign contributions. It has become the biggest lobbyist in Maryland and is likely to assert similar influence in the District in the near future.
The utility business is based on an explicit social contract. We citizens license these monopolies. In exchange, executives and shareholders obligate themselves to serve the public interest — as the public determines that interest. We the citizens of Washington and Maryland have a duty to enforce this contract. Our ability to build the electricity system we need for the 21st century depends on it.