Today three of the longest-established rooftop solar companies in North Carolina will jointly intervene in the North Carolina Utility Commission (NCUC) net metering docket in order to challenge Duke Energy’s proposal to change the rules.
Duke’s plan would institute a minimum monthly bill of up to $28 for homes adding solar and would lower the price paid for their excess power by up to two-thirds from the current retail rate. Additionally, a rebate for solar customers who also install a smart thermostat may not be approved. If it is approved, it will only be for homes heated with electricity and is not available to current solar owners.
For Dave Hollister, president of Sundance Power, a leading solar installer in North Carolina, this is ultimately a battle over who owns the energy. “When utilities look through such a narrow lens of cost shifting they’re applying a litmus test that doesn’t apply to any other ratepayer. Rooftop solar is such a small fraction of electrical sales in this state that it poses no threat to Duke Energy currently. They’re hedging their bet without fully complying to the letter of the law [HB 529], which states that ‘The rates shall be nondiscriminatory and established only after an investigation of the costs and benefits of customer-sited generation.’ No such investigation has been conducted. ,” Hollister said.
Also today, 15 of North Carolina’s rooftop solar companies sent an open letter to Governor Cooper calling for his help to protect rooftop solar from Duke’s attempt to weaken the industry. The letter states, “We believe the proposed changes could harm a growing industry on behalf of a single corporation, cause the loss of thousands of well-paying jobs in the North Carolina solar industry, threaten your climate goals and hurt all electricity customers by limiting the delivery of low-cost power to the grid.”
Changes in net metering rules in California and Florida have forced the industry to react quickly. In California, the Net Metering 3.0 proposal, which was called a solar-killing measure, was put on hold after it came under fire from industry leaders, environmentalists, and working Californians. Just this week Florida’s House passed a bill that calls for the rate paid by utilities to rooftop solar owners for electricity sent back to the grid to be phased down to a fraction of its original rate, and it opens the door for unlimited fixed fees to be levied on solar customers.
These net-metering changes are pitched as a protection for non-solar customers from raised rates through cross-subsidizing solar customers. Studies completed by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that 40 of the 43 states and Washington D.C. with net metering programs have a negligible cost increase attributed to solar.
Will Giese, southeast regional director of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) sees these bills as a threat to the 100,000+ Florida homeowners who have installed rooftop solar and to the 11,000 jobs created in the state. “Utilities are now banking on the state government to strip those rights away and pad their monopoly hold on electricity ,” Giese said. The Florida bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.
Following the anti-rooftop solar playbook
“There’s much national attention on utility efforts to choke rooftop solar, and it’s increasingly clear to me that this case could be pivotal to flipping Duke Energy’s climate-wrecking, ‘expand gas, limit renewables’ business model,” said Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN.
The North Carolina rooftop solar proponents point out that rooftop solar is good for all electricity ratepayers, which is in contrast to Duke Energy’s stance. In testimony in October 2020 in a South Carolina Public Service Commission proceeding, Crossborder Energy of Berkeley, CA made the statement that, “There is not presently a cost shift from solar customers to non-participating ratepayers, and distributed solar is a cost-effective resource for DESC (Duke Energy South Carolina) ratepayers.”
Stew Miller, co-founder and president of Yes Solar Solutions, a leading installer in North Carolina and signer of the letter, thinks that Duke is “following the playbook that utilities in California and Florida are using to slow the growth of their only competitors … their current ratepayers that want the freedom to generate a portion of their own electricity.”
In addition to the letter, over 50 nonprofits have signed a statement opposing Duke’s scheme. A statewide TV-online ad campaign will begin soon; phase one will last four weeks and is intended to build public pressure.
North Carolina is currently generating 8.07% of its electricity from solar and ranks fourth in the country for solar installed, according to SEIA. The North Carolina General Assembly and utilities have set goals of net-zero emissions by 2050 for the electric power sector, and the letter states that “it is inconsistent for Duke Energy to propose a policy that would slow the growth of clean energy.”
The bottom line is that the Duke proposal is bad for ratepayers and for solar installers. “Initial modeling indicates the value of solar to NC customers is reduced by 25%-30% due to increased monthly fees, TOU rates, critical peak pricing and significantly lower credit for excess generation,” Miller said.
The NCUC extended the deadline for parties to intervene in the case and to file initial comments to March 29.
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