Duke rooftop solar program sunsets, corporate solar rises

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Duke Energy, a large utility that serves 1.6 million customers in a territory around the Carolinas, is adjusting its renewable energy buildout strategy. As one program beneficial to homeowner utility bill savings phases out, another program serving large corporate customers is expanded. 

In North Carolina, Duke has awarded the final rebates in a five-year $62 million rooftop solar program. Required by state law, the program awarded rebates that totaled up to $4,000 per homeowner and up to $30,000 for a small business. 

This year, 356 customers statewide, most of them residential accounts, received rebates. Another 2,900 customers are on a waiting list, though most of them are not expected to receive payment. Duke Energy said it does not have a plan in place to support more rooftop solar programs.

Net metering is another rooftop solar-supportive program that is coming under threat. It was established in North Carolina in 2017 and requires, among other things, that each investor-owned  utility must file revised net metering rates with the North Carolina Utilities commission. The rates must be “nondiscriminatory and established only after an investigation of the costs and benefits of customer-sited generators.”

Duke has been criticized for releasing a carbon plan that is not aggressive enough, and the utility supports alterations to net energy metering that installers say may cut the value of rooftop solar by 25% to 30%.

Last year, North Carolina courts made a decision that bars homeowner’s associations (HOA) from banning rooftop solar installations. The state also reached a compromise on net metering structuring, though proceedings are still underway to iron out the future of net metering in the state.

Adding 4 GW 

Meanwhile, corporations and other large organizations have interested in solar procurement have something to celebrate, as Duke announced it will offer 100% renewable energy power purchase contracts via its Green Source Advantage (GSA) program. This marks a big step up from the 30% renewables contracts the utility used to offer. 

The GSA will now expand more than ten times over – reaching 4 GW of capacity. Past program participants have included the City of Charlotte, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Duke University. 

Customers can work directly with Duke Energy or independent developers for their long-term purchase of renewable energy. Participants may also combine energy storage with their project – allowing them to align the production of renewable energy with their energy load. Duke Energy is also proposing a new 10-year avoided cost bill credit option in addition to the existing hourly, 2-year and 5-year options. 

“We’re continuing to fine-tune our renewable energy options for all customers and are looking at programs such as community solar in the future. That will allow customers to directly subscribe to the output of a solar facility,” said Lon Huber, senior vice president, Duke Energy.

North Carolina currently has nearly 8 GW of solar installed or enough to power nearly one million homes. The state is currently getting more than 8% of its electricity needs from the sun.

One reason that North Carolina has leapfrogged other states is due to its Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), established by Senate Bill 3 in August 2007, which required all investor-owned utilities in the state to supply 12.5% of 2020 retail electricity rates from eligible energy sources by 2021. Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives must meet a target of 10% renewables by 2018.

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