By Mary Kuhlman
RALEIGH, N.C. – As North Carolinians rang in the New Year, state regulators released long-anticipated rules for solar power in the state. Solar developers wanted expanded eligibility for contracts, and utilities proposed measures that would limit access.
The state Utilities Commission rejected both proposals and kept the basic framework for solar the same. Legal counsel with NC WARN, John Runkle, says the issue at hand is the real value of solar is not being recognized, and the rules allow Duke Energy to slow-walk contract and interconnection negotiations.
“A contract might take six months, eight months, nine months,” he says. “It’s a pretty well understood technology. As much money as you want to spend on solar, there’s someone willing to put up a good solid solar system for you.”
Runkle says the price of solar has gone down considerably, and there is great potential to expand it around the state. But, he adds, without timely contracts and consistent rates, investors can become discouraged and turn away from profitable solar projects.
Duke has been cited as saying it does support solar development, and a spokesman recently pointed to the 278 megawatts of solar capacity the utility has contracted to build or buy power from this year. But Runkle says just four percent of Duke’s projected total sales are solar, and he adds that much more solar power would be available if the company would offer standard contracts in a timely fashion.
“Last year NC WARN and some other organizations put solar panels on 250 rooftops,” says Runkle. “If there were a way to do that more efficiently we could easily double that, triple that, and the big companies could put on a considerable more amount of solar.”
According to a recent report from Environment North Carolina, solar grew 127 percent between 2010 and 2013. It also found the state has the potential to produce more than 30 times as much electricity from solar power as the state consumes each year.
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