Duke calls for extending net metering in South Carolina through March 2019

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For the past few years, there has been a standard story line running through pv magazine USA’s coverage. While utilities have warmed up to and in many cases embraced large-scale solar, they continue to fight tooth and nail against customer- and third-party owned distributed solar, and particularly against net metering.

This has been our analysis to date of the actions of Duke Energy. Duke utilities have been forced to sign contracts with a tremendous amount of solar under PURPA, and the company has also built a substantial volume of large-scale solar on its own, but has generally resisted policies that enable its customers to adopt their own solar.

That story line didn’t hold true yesterday, when the company filed with South Carolina regulators to voluntarily extend net metering in the service area of Duke Energy Carolinas until March 15, 2019, despite already hitting the state’s net metering cap. In fact, they even asked for expedited approval.

The request is being made jointly with Sunrun, the nation’s largest residential solar company, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, Solar Carolina Coastal Conservation League, but also the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff. The Sunrun-backed Alliance for Solar Choice is also part of the deal.

This is a change of direction from Duke, which shut off net metering on August 1 after hitting the cap on July 9, and originally stated that it would buy power back from new PV systems at wholesale rates in a buy-all, sell-all arrangement. This would have eviscerated the value proposition for new rooftop PV, as Duke’s customers would still be buying power back at much higher retail rates.

This issue was fraught with political implications, given that South Carolina homes have the highest monthly electricity bills in the nation, due to widespread use of air conditioning in the hot summer months.

The joint petitioners state that they are requesting an extension to the program “in the interest of further collaboration”, and Duke has referenced legislative attempts to raise the state’s net metering caps and higher rates than the regional average.

From Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier:

Collaboration brought us a successful solar law in Act 236, policy that has been overwhelmingly successful in growing the renewable energy marketplace in South Carolina.

That collaboration continues as we move through the next steps of growing renewables in the communities we serve. The Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) has brought a diverse group of stakeholders to the table to address some of the issues that were raised during the last session of the General Assembly.

Vote Solar also praised the decision “While this would be a time-limited extension of net metering, this proposal does send a powerful signal about the importance of expanding consumer opportunities to invest in cost-saving grid infrastructure,” stated Thad Culley, regional director at Vote Solar. “I applaud Duke Energy Carolinas for allowing solar to continue to shine while stakeholders work toward consensus on a long-term energy policy for South Carolina.”