Solar advocates reaffirm their approval of Duke Energy’s proposed net metering successor in North Carolina

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A coterie of clean energy advocates, including the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of Vote Solar and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, have submitted comments to North Carolina regulators reaffirming their already-public support for Duke Energy’s Solar Choice Net Metering proposal, which was originally filed on November 29, 2021.

While North Carolina is only required to revisit the current net metering structure some time before 2027, the state’s current rebate program is set to expire in 2022, which has created an environment of urgency for clean-energy focused groups hoping to avoid the industry-harming effects that even a couple of weeks of incentive uncertainty can have on the residential solar market.

The groups say that the proposal, when combined with a pending Smart $aver Solar incentive, which would offer rebates to non-residential customers to install energy efficient equipment in their facilities, would still provide the upfront savings, reduced utility costs, and bill savings necessary to keep the state’s distributed solar market healthy and growing. Duke’s proposal would change the state’s base net metering incentive from the full retail rate of electricity, to the avoided cost rate represented by sourcing that electricity from distributed solar, rather than any other generating resource.

The proposal would also institute time-of-use rates, with different net metering rates for peak periods (times when projected electricity demand, and, as a result, costs, are high) and discount periods (times when projected electricity demand, and, as a result, costs, are lower). In practice, this would lower net metering rates from between $0.05 and $0.20 per kWh, as it stands today, to around $0.03/kWh. The reason for such a large variance in current rates is that the full retail rate is based on time of use and critical-peak pricing, which fluctuates, depending on the time of day and time of year.

Duke’s plan would also institute a minimum monthly bill of up to $28 for homes adding solar.

While lowered export rates and fixed fees for solar owners are both policies that the organizations included in this letter have fought against before, they do not do the industry nearly as much harm as an incentive expiration period would, something the organizations recognize. According to the advocates, the net metering successor program has been approached from a utility-collaborative perspective, in an attempt to avoid the ugly battles s over harmful proposals that rooftop solar customers have weathered in states like California and Florida.

“While there has been some concern about the changes this agreement presents to the industry, it mitigates many of the worst-case scenarios seen in the aforementioned states, which can have devastating results for rooftop solar communities,” reads a released published by NCSEA on behalf of the advocates as a group, referencing not just Florida and California, but ugly fights past in Illinois, Nevada, and Arizona.

“While NCSEA and our partners understand that this change may be difficult in the short-term, the long-term predictability affords the continued growth and sustainability of rooftop solar as a whole in North Carolina,” said to Peter Ledford, general counsel and director of policy with NCSEA.

Faces of opposition

This is not to say, however, that climate and renewable energy advocates are in favor of the proposal across the board. Earlier this month, 15 rooftop solar companies within the state sent an open letter to Governor Roy 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.”

Additionally, three climate justice nonprofits have filed a joint challenge to Duke Energy’s proposal, claiming that Duke’s plan would harm all North Carolinians, especially low-income individuals and families.

A spokesperson for the group, dubbed NC WARN, explained the position, saying:

“For 10 years, Duke executives have led the national fight against renewable energy – and fought against an honest, independent study of solar’s true value in this monopoly state.  Duke’s sole argument for its proposed rules change – that solar homes don’t pay their fair share compared to non-solar households – cannot survive an impartial study that assesses solar costs and benefits.”

In addition to NC Warn’s letter, over 50 nonprofits have signed a statement opposing Duke’s proposal. A statewide TV-online ad campaign is also st to run; phase one will last four weeks and is intended to build public pressure.

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