These photos go in conjunction with the story Small Town, Small Powerhouse written about the Lockville Hydroelectric Plant and Dam in Moncure, North Carolina. There are photos showing the geographical location of the dam and historical photos of the dam itself as well as photos of larger, more conventional dams found in other parts of the country. These photos are put together for the difference in size and scale to be evident between these two very different kinds of dams.
Sitting deep in the southeastern part of Chatham County– a large county in the center of North Carolina – is the tiny town of Moncure. Bracketed by the Deep River on one side and the Haw River on the other, Moncure is close to where these two rivers collide before rolling on to form the mighty Cape Fear River. With all this water around it’s no wonder this area became a hotbed for hydroelectric power.
Fun fact: the Deep River has more hydroelectric power plants on it than any other river in North Carolina. There are about a dozen dams on the river. Some have non-operational hydroelectric plants on them, but there are five operational hydroelectric plants. One is the Lockville Dam and Powerhouse producing power it sells to the power grid controlled by Duke Progress Energy.
The Lockville Dam has existed since 1840. Its canal was used during the Civil War for navigation. Iron ore was shipped downriver from Buckhorn and loaded onto the railroad at Lockville. This operation ended and the dam collapsed in 1901. In 1922 construction was begun by the Deep River Power Company to rebuild the dam and install a hydroelectric power plant. Completed in 1925, it became the first electric power produced in Chatham County. Dean Brooks of Brooks Energy LLC bought the site in 2003.
The Lockville small hydroelectric plant uses the unaltered natural flow of the river to generate power. It creates less environmental impacts on the river than conventional hydroelectric plants. River water falls from the dam turning a metal wheel that powers two generators. The weight of the water pushing on the wheel is what makes the power and nothing else. This is a clean energy source with no pollution. The dam is 13 feet tall. The water drops about 21 feet to hit the wheel.
Brooks explained, “the further the water drops the more power is produced, since this is only a 21 foot drop we are a small plant with a small amount of power.”
During high flow conditions on the river when both generators are running the plant can power around 450 to 500 homes. Each generator produces about 350 kilowatts which powers around 250 homes. During the summer, when flow conditions are low, Brooks usually only runs one generator. Lockville Dam sells its electricity to Duke Energy which can then send the power over the grid to wherever it is needed. Lockville is guaranteed the right to sell its energy on the grid by the Public Utilities Act of 1978. This law mandated that operations of greater than 100 kilowatts must be allowed into the grid. It also states the operations are to be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Lockville is an example of a small hydro operation successfully providing power in North Carolina. Though not a huge dam powering thousands of homes, it is still doing its part to reduce the state’s dependency on non-renewable energy sources.
Is solar really just for the rich?
As the popularity of rooftop solar circulates through states like California, it can be hard to resist the idea that renewable energy is just for the most educated and wealthy American people. In North Carolina, it is a rarity at all to see rooftop solar, let alone on the rooftops of those who are financially struggling.
Over my spring break in Los Angeles, CA, I have confronted the fact that solar can seriously benefit lower-income families, not just the rich.
What if there was a way that we could lower the bills of low-income families significantly through volunteerism?
This is what 301(c)3 non-profit GRID Alternatives, a subsidiary of Solarcorp under Americorp, is doing by providing solar panels for low income families across the US at no cost to the homeowner.
How do I know? I installed the panels myself with the help of GRID’s amazing team and 11 other UNC students.
California operates under a feed-in tariff, where an individual can earn payment for the energy produced by their solar panels at a higher rate for a set period of time. In 2008, GRID was chosen as the statewide program manager for its $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) incentive program.
The SASH program is the first in the country to provide significant rebates for solar energy for low income housing, directing 10 percent of California Solar Initiative funds to be set aside for programs assisting low-income households in accessing solar technology.
What this means is in California, solar has to be inclusive, and the government funds projects that work towards this goal. That’s where GRID comes in.
There are some requirements to get no-cost solar: you must live in a state determined low-income neighborhood, be within a certain income bracket, own and live in the home, and have a nice, sturdy roof. Once all those boxes are checked, you are then on the list for getting solar panels that can reduce your monthly electricity bill by over 50 percent. In many cases, an electricity bill reduction can mean a world of difference.
The people who benefit from GRID go beyond just the people that receive solar. The solar industry is a booming one in California that creates many jobs that require experience and training. I think all of us have gotten rejected from a job for not having enough experience. But how are you supposed to get experience without a job?
GRID is also working to close this chicken-and-egg situation through volunteerism. GRID installs all of its solar panels using volunteers, including veterans, who can then use this experience to apply for jobs in the for-profit solar industry.
In North Carolina, the 35 percent tax credit for investment in renewables died at the end of 2015. This tax credit led to a boom in solar investments in the state, and continued investments in solar could have led to job opportunities across the rural-urban divide. Without this tax credit, renewables in North Carolina faces serious trouble as the incentive to invest no longer exists.
Not only have renewables struggled in North Carolina, but individuals as well. Electricity bills in North Carolina are 9.35 percent higher than the national average and low-income families often have to choose between electricity and food in the winter months because of high oil prices. And while solar may not be the perfect option year-round, the savings that these families can earn could literally save their lives.
So who are the faces of solar? As for me, they are Maria Gonzales, the woman who will save $300 off her energy bill every month due to the solar GRID installed on her roof over UNC’s spring break. They are the faces of the men and women I worked side by side with who started as volunteers and are now paid members of GRID’s training force.
Will we stand behind the myth of solar only being for the wealthy, or will we take leaps towards energy equality? Will we take advantage of the opportunities that solar presents, not only for people who have solar themselves but the jobs it creates?
North Carolina: it’s your move.
Save Money, Give Back: Go Solar
Businesses are always looking for ways to reduce internal costs. Often times, businesses are looking to give back to the community. But what if there was a way to do both?
Installing solar panels on your business can accomplish just that. And now, with community programs like Solarize, the process has become much simpler.
Solar panels can save your business money on utility bills over the years. Installing through programs like Solarize will put money towards nonprofits or low-income communities getting solar.
Solarize was started by nonprofits who wanted to bring a successful solar model to North Carolina. Solarize recommends solar installers and bring homeowners together to get group rates on their home installations.
Sally Robertson works for NcWARN, one of two nonprofits that sponsor Solarize.
“Businesses can sign up through us for roof panels or a ground mount,” Robertson said.
Robertson also said that while in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, installing solar will save money and benefit the community.
Below are the five steps to take to install solar on your business.
- Browse Around
How involved do you want to be?
Jay Linke is an energy specialist at Yes! Solar, a company in North Carolina that installs solar panels on commercial buildings.
Linke said doing research is the first step to getting involved with solar.
Lucky for you, it’s the installer’s job to make the process as simple as possible.
2. Get your free assessment
Free solar consultations can tell you if you should consider investing in solar panels. Not all businesses are fit for solar.
A Google Maps search of the address can sometimes tell if a business’s location is unsuitable.
So how does the installer tell if a site is capable of operating solar panels?
Linke said they look at the sunlight exposure year round, the size of the system and necessary site improvements.
Robertson said the installer looks at a few things.
“They look at a year’s worth of your utility bill,” she said. “So they’ll say, ‘here’s what you’re using every year in electricity and here’s how much sun your roof is getting.’ Based on that we can tell how big a system you’ll need.”
Ellen Cassily, a Durham architect who previously installed panels on her home, also installed panels on her business last year. Solarize connected her with Yes! Solar to complete the installation of the panels. The timing was perfect because she also needed a new roof on her business.
“We looked at some of my old bills and figured the sizing of the panels to be 15 kilowatts, so that would take up about 75% of my energy use, but that was not taking into consideration the new insolation that I put in under the roof,” Cassily said. “So I think I actually get taken care of more than 75 percent of my use.”
Cassily also said she has been very happy with her decision to invest in solar panels.
- Work out the finances
The installer will help you with this. Thirty percent of the cost can be claimed as a federal tax credit.
Loans are also available. And money will be saved in the long run on energy usage and property value. There are also additional benefits that businesses can enjoy.
“A business has additional tax benefits,” Robertson said. “There’s a depreciation thing where businesses can make back their money. It’s another way that businesses can make back their money a little quicker than residential.”
- Sign a contract and sit back
Lots of paperwork has to be done. Essentially, you are becoming a small power generator and need approval from Duke Energy. But the installers will take care of all this for you.
The installer will get the permits by putting in an application with Duke and with the utilities commission. You do not have to worry about the hassle of form-filling.
Then Duke Energy will conduct a review.
Linke said sometimes you will fail a review and have to pay to get a more extensive review done.
The installation normally takes a few days. It can occasionally take about a month, depending on the building’s current energy system. You can stay in the business during that time.
You can also pay an extra charge to monitor your energy usage on the internet. That way you can know exactly how much net energy you are producing.
- Save Money
The power output warranty on the solar panels will last 25 years. This means for 25 years the panels should produce 80 percent of the power that they did on day one, but they will likely last longer.
Solar panels reduce your energy costs. You will even generate extra energy that is sold back to Duke and receive this money as a credit you can use in the darker months.
The property value of your business will also increase, Robertson said. But there is a North Carolina law that will not bump your property tax.
“Payback can vary,” Robertson said. “We’ve seen about $11,000-$12,000 in the increase of property value.”
The process is simple in North Carolina, and should be utilized as much as possible before the federal tax credit expires at the end of this year.
So, why wait?
Many businesses are capitalizing on a growing clean tech opportunity in North Carolina- renewable companies, city developers, and venture capitalists. Large energy providers are often left out of the picture, perhaps as they’re perceived as heavily invested in fossil fuels. However, this may not be the case with the coming energy transformation.
Below, two Duke Energy representatives provide insight on Duke’s sustainability efforts. Elizabeth Bennett is a manager of the Distributed Energy Resources Group, and Hilary Davidson is Duke Energy’s Director of Sustainability and Community Affairs. Both shared their perspective on the role of sustainability in energy supply.
This Q&A explores the challenges and opportunities that renewables present for Duke Energy. The representatives also discuss Duke’s future plans to expand its sustainability efforts, bringing awareness to shifts in the energy market. (These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Q: What trends do you see in renewable energy policy and the growth of big businesses? Do you have any insight on the future nature of the renewable industry ten years from now?
Elizabeth Bennett: I think questions about policy incentives are going to become less and less important because the economics is working.
Now it’s working differently for different customers. I know Duke would like to get to a point where we are able to connect customers with affordable solar options — and by customers I mean your big-box retailers but also your residential customers.
If you look over the border on what we’re doing in South Carolina, there’s a good example. Through legislation we have a way to invest and provide customers options for solar engagement. And we’ve rolled out a rebate program for rooftop and ground-mount installation on customer properties.
We’re also going to be rolling out a shared solar program. So for folks that live in apartment complexes, or that might not have a roof that’s conducive with solar, or that might not want to deal with the operations or a homeowner’s association that doesn’t like solar on the roof, then they can participate in the shared solar concept, or community solar.
So those are the kinds of things we at Duke would like to be able to invest in and provide for customers in the future. And I think there is going to be a pathway to do that. Now every state will be a little different, and that’s where policy comes in.
I would be careful not to look at a tax crediting expiring and say, ‘It’s the end of solar.’ And I think some people did, but it’s not slowing anything down. And especially with the federal government’s decision in the end to extend the ITC — that was significant. And I don’t think that’s being talked about enough.
And the only other thing I’ll say, and it’s somewhat obvious sometimes — a lot of people tend to forget that North Carolina ranked number two last year in terms of solar growth. And we are really proud to have been part of that.
Last year we constructed four large-scale solar facilities totaling 141 megawatts, and late last year we announced another 75 megawatts. And so our pace isn’t slowing down.
And I think as we look towards the future, if there’s anything to take away, it’s that we believe the utility has a big role to play in investing in solar and other renewable resources: bringing those to customers in an affordable and a reliable way, and growing them as part of our portfolio, but also balancing with the other resources we have and the other demands we have on the system.
Q: Why does sustainability make sense for Duke?
Hilary Davidson: It makes so much sense. It makes sense socially, economically, and environmentally. People always think, oh, it’s going to cost money to do sustainability things.
It really is all about long-term— making good business decisions that are good for the environment and good for people. It really saves you money.
One of the key things we really encourage folks internally— when we talk about sustainability, you start thinking differently when you think about conserving those resources. (Employees) think of new processes, they get very efficient, and they come up with new ideas. We have saved millions of dollars with employees with new innovative approaches of how they do their job.
And we have a group we call the Sustainability Corps, we kind of named it after the Peace Corps. And it has been really fun. So they have gotten energized and really saved so much money through their projects.
So you can reduce emissions or water and also costs and your budget. We quit tracking the numbers because it’s so embedded now because it’s so much a part of the culture.
Q: How much of these sustainability efforts are a reaction to the growing environmental movement and pressure from your customers for more responsible practices? Does this make your efforts relatively recent?
Davidson: We’ve been doing this a long time. I would say it’s not a reaction for us, and I can say that so passionately.
I’ve been doing this for 30 years at Duke. I helped write the first environmental report, and that was in 1993. Duke created the first environmental science center of all of the utilities in the 1970s.
So they’ve had a huge environmental focus for a long time. So that first external environmental report was kind of unique for utilities. That was not something that was typically done way back when.
So the whole movement changed. It was environmental for a while, and then social responsibility started, and then the name sustainability actually formalized — we formalized a corporate sustainability office in 2008. So we formalized the name at a certain point, but it’d been there in one form or fashion.
One of the things I’d like to say, you know, J.B. Duke, the founder of Duke Energy, started the Duke Endowment, and this was back in the 1920s. When he started the power company, he said, hey if I’m going to make money from this industry, I’m going to also give money and philanthropy back to the Carolinas and the community, which to me is sustainability.
So he started the Duke Endowment, which today is one of the hugest endowments, and it gives money to the Carolinas. To me, the foresight of that is just part of that whole philosophy.
Q: What opportunities and challenges have renewables presented to Duke?
Davidson: I think it has been another great asset to add to our diverse fuel mix. I think having diverse fuel options is our biggest asset and will continue to be our biggest asset in the future.
I think we always want to have a diverse fuel supply. We don’t ever want to go a single source of anything. I think just like a diverse stock portfolio, it keeps you healthy, and serves you well over time, so should a diverse fuel portfolio.
I’ve been in the industry long enough to see — I was around when gas prices went sky-rocketing, I was standing at gas lines in the 70s to fill up my gas tank, I’ve been around when Chernobyl happened, when Fukushima happened, I’ve been around when natural gas prices spiked. I’ve been around now with the shale-gas revolution, with how cheap gas is now.
You know, solar is fantastic. But I don’t know, something could happen with solar that we don’t even know yet. Sometimes we think everything is glorious, and sometimes things happen. So I guess keeping all options on the table is good.
The challenge of renewables for now, I would say, is storage. And from what I understand right now, the storage technology is not totally there yet, and also there is the expense of it. The sooner we can get there at an affordable rate is awesome. Understand we own about 15 percent of the utility-scale storage in the United States right now.
The other thing with the challenge with renewables is that it doesn’t always match the peak. And I think people don’t always understand that, it’s not always there at the right time. It’s intermittent, and that’s an issue as well.
Q: A quote from Duke’s 2014 sustainability report- “closing 40 coal-fired generating units… We’ve also invested more than $4 billion in wind and solar facilities and, in 2014, we committed $500 million to expand solar energy in North Carolina.” Oftentimes, there is a negative perception surrounding Duke because a large percentage of your generation is from coal. Their comment might be you could do better to invest more in renewables and efficiency. What would be your response to that?
Davidson: I guess what I would say to those people is please consider the entire population in North Carolina and the needs of your neighbors in this state.
Our customer base is not a high-income customer base. Those people cannot afford to have all of that power shut down and do really expensive renewables. You can’t just transition and shut everything down and pay off-site prices right now.
That wouldn’t make economic sense. Just like anything you need to transition. The path you are on is transitioning to a lower-carbon economy and future.
And that is the pathway underway; and you do it sensibly, and in a way that is not hurting people. You do it in a smart and economic way as those prices come down and as technologies come up.
One of the things with Duke — our stakeholders are everybody. So they’re all at complete different ends of the spectrum, and at the end of the day we have to keep those lights on for everybody.
We respect all of the different viewpoints that there are, truly. We do have the extreme activist end of things, where they want everything totally green right now. If you look at the entire population it’s actually not a high percentage of what most of customers actually want.
Most of our customers say, we really want an affordable bill because we’re just trying to survive, and I need to stay in business in this state. So there are some heavy social issues that are going on. And that’s obviously very critical.
There are health issues, there’s social issues, education issues, which is all part of sustainability. Those are equally important as the environmental and green part of it. And so that’s what you have to think about.
Really when you think triple bottom line, you need to be thinking of all of those in the long-term, and not doing a drastic reaction to just one component of it and sacrificing other things. People might not like you, and you might get beat up for it. But you still need to do the right thing to make sure no one is getting hurt in the long-run.
Wind is a resource that North Carolina has in abundance. Some see this free natural resource as potential dollar signs as well as a clean renewable energy source. Wind energy investors are trying to find ways to turn this resource into a profit for their companies.
The 3rd Annual North Carolina Clean Tech Summit in Chapel Hill hosted a panel touting “The Path Forward for NC’s Emerging Wind Industry.” Panelists included Paul Friday from Marine Corps Installation East, Don Giecek of Apex Wind Energy, Wayne Harris from Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, April Montgomery founder of Renewable Energy and Preservation (REAP), and Craig Poff of Ibredrola Renewables. The topic discussion highlighted five major points related to wind energy development in North Carolina.
Technology – How to Catch the Wind
The state of North Carolina has enough wind to make wind farms profitable.
Giecek of Apex Wind Energy concurs North Carolina’s measurable wind is strong enough to support a utility scale wind farm. Current advances in wind turbine technology of longer blades result in a larger area to catch the wind.
“You combine that with some advancements in foundations and steel structures for the towers that allow you to get higher,” said Giecek. “The available wind is now clearly strong enough to be profitable.”
Advances in wind technology have opened up North Carolina to the prospect of profitable wind power projects.
Siting – Where to Catch Wind
The two largest industries in North Carolina are agriculture and the military. Wind power projects need to be sited so they do not interfere with these two giant economic powers.
“Siting is a really complex issue when it comes to wind development. Wind projects have a large envelope, but a small footprint,” said Montgomery who founded Renewable Energy and Preservation (REAP).
REAP identifies development sites for utility-scale wind projects by considering needs of commercial, environmental, and regulatory components.
Montgomery is confident that developers can find areas in North Carolina where wind power is compatible with the existing land use. There are no sites where there is zero impact, but the impact can be minimized in places.
“You can have a project that has 25 to 30 thousand acres that is part of the project, but loses less than 50 acres out of agriculture production,” said Montgomery.
Wind power projects could not be sited in populous areas like Cary or Charlotte. Co-development in eastern NC where agriculture and military rule the landscape is a viable prospect.
Politics Blue or Red? – NC House Bill 484
Political polarization makes it harder for wind and other renewable projects to get approved.
NC House Bill 484 was passed in 2013 (http://www.newbernsj.com/article/20130504/News/305049891/?Start=1).
This NC Republican era bill makes it exceedingly difficult to get a wind project off the ground. It does not have clearly defined standards for the projects to meet.
Things have changed drastically since 2009 when NC was a Blue state from top to bottom according to Poff of Iberdrola Renewables.
“There is just so much uncertainty in that bill. It is duplicative. It is arbitrary. It’s subjective. It’s just not a predictable atmosphere,” said Poff. “You’re talking about a development cycle that may be five years long and millions invested.” The uncertain outcome of the approval process inhibits the wind business from an economic perspective.
House Bill 484 is a major hurdle for wind projects located in the state.
Economies of Scale – Wind Subsidies
Economies of scale are the cost advantages that companies obtain due to size, output, or scale of operation. Poff maintains there are some large scale interests who “really have messaged around” that the support for wind is government funded. Notably those associated with the massive fossil fuel industry, such as the Koch brothers.
Truth is-wind power does not get any subsidies until after the project is built and producing power. This is not what the opponents of wind power would have you believe.
“In November of 2015 the unsubsidized cost of wind ranged from 32 cents per kilowatt hour up to the mid-70s or thereabouts. That is cheaper than almost every other utility scale generation. And that was unsubsidized,” said Poff.
Profits – Bottom Line Benefits of Wind to NC
Wind projects can bring much needed income into rural North Carolina counties.
Harris of the Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission emphasized the monetary benefit this way.
“Even with the rebates Iberdrola is now the largest tax-payer in Pasquotank County by a comfortable margin. It is a quarter million dollars a year,” said Harris.
The traditional utilities and Wal Mart lag behind in second, third and fourth place.
“The landowners get 300 thousand dollars in Pasquotank County and they lose almost no farmland,” Harris said.
Farmers share in the income generated by wind. They also can still make money farming the land not utilized by wind turbines.
Tax revenues in the county are up 52% due to the Iberdrola project. All of these benefits happened with the county investing almost nothing in additional infrastructure to support the wind project. The wind industry creates a win-win scenario in NC for Pasquotank County and agriculture business.
Who can argue with a bigger bottom line?
Energy Deregulation in North Carolina
Today in the United States, sixteen states have deregulated electricity and twenty-two have deregulated natural gas. This map by Quantum Gas shows deregulation by state. As states continue to vote to enact or repeal deregulation, it remains a controversial issue nationwide.
Why was energy regulated in the first place?
In a regulated electricity market, only the utility can sell electricity directly to the consumer. Consumers who want to buy electricity can only buy from the local utility. There is no competitive pricing because a regulatory body sets the electricity rates.
Energy regulation began soon after electricity and gas started becoming available to consumers. The necessary infrastructure to create and transport energy was not well formed yet. Lots of companies building small pieces of infrastructure meant that electricity service was spotty and unreliable.
The government granted utilities monopolies in their areas in response to these coverage issues. The catch? The utilities were legally obligated to provide energy to all consumers at all times.
Now that the transmission infrastructure exists, some states are voting to deregulate their electricity markets.
What is a deregulated electricity market?
In a deregulated electricity market, approved providers can sell energy to consumers. These approved providers are called Retail Electricity Providers, or REPs. Consumers can choose from which REP they buy electricity.
There is no set price for electricity, so in theory a deregulated system functions as a free market. Deregulation allows competition between energy suppliers, but keeps the utility’s transmission and delivery infrastructure. Though the local utility does not have guaranteed returns, it is still responsible for maintaining that infrastructure.
What’s going on with deregulation in North Carolina?
North Carolina has not deregulated electricity or gas and deregulation in the immediate future seems unlikely. The North Carolina legislature has not been receptive to recent proposals to allow non-utility companies to sell energy.
Last year the legislature voted down House Bill 245, the Energy Freedom Act. The bill would have allowed companies to install solar panels on homes and sell the electricity directly to the residents.
North Carolina has debt from building expensive nuclear plants, which could prove problematic for deregulation legislation. Michael Walden, an NC State researcher, says that debt would make electricity rates initially rise under deregulation.
Walden also predicts that energy prices would later fall by 15 to 20%. However, paying off the debt in a free market would put Duke Energy at a disadvantage. Debt issues aside, existing monopolies like Duke are likely to use their political power to keep the regulated system and their monopolies.
So which one is better for me?
Ah, this is where it gets tricky. Proponents of deregulation maintain that the resulting competition will drive down prices. They also argue that deregulation will pave the way for increased renewable energy use.
Those against deregulation cite a lack of responsibility for long-term energy projects. Since no company is legally accountable for providing electricity, they are likely to operate with short-term gains in mind. Additionally, companies want to make the most profit possible and may focus on more lucrative big electricity users.
So your opinion might depend on how well you think the free market works for smaller energy consumers. Competition could potentially bring your electricity prices down and increase use of renewables. But with no responsibility for providing energy, companies could also focus on the more profitable large customers instead of average consumers.
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- “How Electric Choice Works,” AEP Energy, 2016
- “How Energy Deregulation Works,” American Power and Gas, 2016
- “Electricity Regulation Doesn’t Work in the Real World,” The Arizona Republic, 2013
- “Game-Changing Energy Freedom Bill,” NC Warn, 2015
- “Deregulation Ahead for NC Power Companies?” WRAL News, 1999.
- “Top 10 Things You Should Know About Energy Deregulation in the United States,” Electric Choice, 2015
- “AEP, Sierra Club Back Profit-Plan Guarantee,” The Columbus Dispatch, 2016
- “In Texas Power Market, Flighty Customers Pose Challenge,” The Dallas Morning News, 2015
- “Electric Shadyland: How Power Companies Rip You Off,” Mother Jones, 2014
- “Electric Restructuring,” Customers First! Coaltion, 2016