By Elizabeth Ouzts
Highlighting a set of rules that promote rooftop solar, last week the activist group NC WARN became one of the few in North Carolina to urge a veto of a controversial energy bill that cleared the state legislature minutes before a month-long adjournment.
In a letter to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, the nonprofit condemned the finely-tuned compromise between Duke Energy and the renewables industry, which would more than double the state’s solar capacity, but – after a last-minute amendment by state senators – block new wind farms for 18 months.
NC WARN’s sharpest criticism wasn’t directed at the wind provision, however. The outspoken Duke foe honed on twelve lines about net metering – part of the bill since its unveiling.
“The bill would allow Duke Energy to attack rooftop solar by adding more fees on customers and lowering net metering payments,” wrote the group’s director, Jim Warren.
The little-discussed section directs Duke, which has advocated lower payments to solar panel owners in the past, to recommend new net metering rates for approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The clause sets the stage for a battle between the state’s investor-owned utility and rooftop solar – one already raging in dozens of states across the country.
Among the state’s clean energy leaders, Warren is unique in his thorough disapproval of House Bill 589, which, before the wind amendment, was the product of months of negotiations and enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
But even advocates who championed the original compromise share Warren’s concern over the net metering clause.
“Even with some of the other benefits to the rooftop solar industry in this bill,” said Peter Ledford of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, “that one small piece about net metering could be hugely problematic.”
‘A concerted effort to undermine net metering’
Net metering is the system by which solar owners are compensated for excess electricity they send to the grid, typically at the retail rate.
To encourage rooftop solar, in the last three decades more than 40 states have adopted some form of net metering. As solar costs have plummeted, residential solar nearly quadrupled from 2012 to last year.