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Advocates Push for Energy Freedom Act

FORSYTH COUNTY — Supporters of a solar energy bill hope it could give more options to low income families facing tough decisions over high utility bills. The Energy Freedom Act in state lawmakers' hands will allow separate contractors to install solar panels in a home.

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“My mother was behind on payments, and we weren't able to make the past due payment, so what ended up happening was that our energy was cut off,” said Luis Garcia, Solarize Triad volunteer.

Luis Garcia is a volunteer with Solarize Triad, a group pushing for cheaper solar conversions. He comes from a low-income family and is advocating for House Bill 245 or, Energy Freedom Act.

“Which focuses on giving communities open access and clear access to deal directly with solar companies in order to help them bring down their energy costs,” said Rep. Ed Hanes, Forsyth Co.

Bishop Todd Fulton has a church in Winston-Salem and deals with single parents and senior citizens who struggle with utility bills some on a weekly basis.

“When I see that they can't pay their bills and they have to decide because they're on a fixed income, do I pay my energy bill or do I buy medicine for my diabetes? To me that is one of the most outrageous crimes that I can see happen in our community,” said Bishop Fulton, Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.

Advocates for the Energy Freedom Act believe Duke Energy is a monopoly and want more, preferably greener options. Duke officials think a more comprehensive approach to solar energy is needed, something the legislation lacks.

“Another important one is consumer protection. If you look at states that have these third party sales. These are 20 year leases, these can be very complicated and some consumers can get taken advantage of and we need to have some provisions for them,” said Randy Wheeless, Duke Energy spokesman.

Wheeless says North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation for operating solar power. But that's a statistic Garcia and his family say they don't feel.

“It's something that's very real whenever people talk about low income families because they don't see the faces, they don't hear the stories, so it's important for us to share those stories so that they know the people who are going to be impacted,” said Garcia.

If the Energy Freedom Act is passed by both houses this session of the General Assembly and signed by the governor, it will go into effect July 1.