Roy Cooper is shocked — shocked! — to learn that Duke Energy recently employed “rolling blackouts” in North Carolina.
Will that shock — shock! — return as Cooper’s own policies as governor make rolling blackouts occur more regularly?
Before focusing on the implications of Cooper’s dubious energy priorities, the exclamation points above deserve an explanation. Those who have never seen the classic 1942 film “Casablanca” might not recognize the reference to one of its most well-known scenes.
In the movie, Casablanca’s corrupt police prefect, Captain Louis Renault, needs to invent an excuse to shut down a nightclub. “I’m shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on in here,” Renault says to the club’s owner. A moment later, a club employee approaches Renault with an envelope. “Your winnings, sir,” he says. “Oh, thank you very much. Everybody out at once,” Renault responds without missing a beat.
Lasting just five seconds, the exchange reveals much about Renault’s character. He’s willing to adopt a public stance of shock about gambling when it suits his immediate needs. Yet he displays no remorse about taking full advantage of the gambling operation — even as he shuts it down.
Cooper’s public response to rolling blackouts reminds this observer of the fictional movie character’s sudden, calculated aversion to gambling.
“Duke Energy assures me NC is in the clear now,” Cooper tweeted Dec. 26 from his official account. “But I’m deeply concerned about people who lost power and who didn’t get notice about rotating outages. Grateful for those who conserved energy. I’ve asked Duke for a complete report on what went wrong and for changes to be made.”
It makes sense politically for the governor to release a public statement of concern about “rotating outages,” another name for rolling blackouts. North Carolinians are not accustomed to this drastic approach to energy conservation. Forced power outages are unlikely to boost anyone’s poll numbers.
Yet Cooper should not pretend to claim ignorance about the threat of rolling blackouts. His own approach to energy policy makes the state more vulnerable in the future.
My colleagues at the John Locke Foundation have warned about the likely impact of Cooper’s priorities. In February 2021, Locke released a report addressing the topic directly: “Cooper Is Steering North Carolina Toward Electricity Blackouts.”
“Last summer California suffered two days of rolling blackouts because the customers’ needs for electricity exceeded the California power system’s ability to generate electricity. Such a thing should never happen,” wrote Locke Senior Fellow Donald van der Vaart, a former state secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality.
“North Carolinians should know that many of the energy policies Gov. Roy Cooper has advocated for here in North Carolina follow the mistakes identified as the cause of California’s blackouts,” van der Vaart warned. “As in California, these missteps will leave North Carolina unprepared for our energy future and will ultimately lead to blackouts here. North Carolina should not repeat California’s mistakes.”
Van der Vaart identified a key reason for California’s failure. “In transitioning to ‘clean’ energy, the state’s dispatchable generating capacity had ‘not kept pace’ with the state’s needs.”
“What does it mean that their dispatchable generating capacity hadn’t kept pace with the state’s needs? Gov. Gavin Newsom explained that the transition away from natural gas (dispatchable generating capacity) and toward renewable sources (not dispatchable) led to ‘gaps’ in their ability to provide electricity,” van der Vaart explained. “He was pointing out the obvious: California built solar and wind plants without the necessary backup plants that could be dispatched.”
“Cooper is steering North Carolina in the same direction,” van der Vaart continued. “He opposes building new natural gas pipelines while pushing for more solar plants, which need natural gas backup. Is this where we want North Carolina to go? Do we want more poverty? Do we want the poorest having to pay more of their monthly income for electricity? Do we want rolling blackouts?”
In case the governor missed that report, Locke’s Jon Sanders reposted it on Christmas Eve. That’s the day Duke Energy issued its warning about rotating outages.
Sanders leads the Center for Food, Power, and Life. He reminded readers that Locke experts have issued repeated warnings about the consequences of Cooper’s policy choices.
“Cooper’s energy plan, heavy promotion of unreliable energy sources, opposition to building new natural gas pipelines even though solar and wind facilities need natural gas for backup generation, and opposition to nuclear power threaten to make California-style rolling blackouts a Carolina reality.”
It’s a reality the governor cannot hide by expressing shock — shock! — about recent events.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.