By John Downey
Duke Energy Corp.’s rooftop solar rebate program has proven so popular that the money available for residential and commercial rebates this year is already tapped out two weeks after the program launched.
But some customers who have already installed residential and commercial solar this year, in anticipation of the program, missed out under the “first-come, first-served” system for awarding the rebates. As a result, Duke is asking regulators for permission to allow customers who installed projects this year before July 26 to apply for the installation rebate in 2019, when additional money becomes available.
Randy Wheeless says Duke (NYSE: DUK) believes there has been significant pent-up demand for the solar program, which was mandated by the General Assembly last summer and approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission earlier this year.
That led to a flood of applications — more than 1,500, Duke says — in the opening weeks of the program, which formally launched on July 9.
Some customers whose systems hadn’t been installed got their applications in before people who already had them. And under the process Duke set up, those customers received approval ahead of some that had installations complete. Overall, about 60% of the rebates went to customers who have not yet installed their project.
So Duke wants to give that group of customers who missed out on the rebates an opportunity to apply in 2019, which is expected to bring lower demand than this year. Typically, projects built in 2018 would not qualify for rebates in any subsequent year. This is a one-time proposal by Duke to try to accommodate customers who were caught in this first-year rush of applications.
“Duke Energy requests that the commission approve an amendment … to enable customers who installed solar energy facilities … between January 1, 2018 and July 26, 2018… to be able to apply for participation in the Solar Rebate Program when the application window opens again on January 1, 2019,” the company says in filings made Thursday morning with the commission.
The five-year program is slated to run to 2022. With Duke awarding a little more than $12 million in a year in rebates, about $50 million remains for the coming years.
The response to the program has been encouraging, Duke says.
“Customers are overwhelmingly embracing our rebate program and are supporting Duke Energy’s efforts to promote renewable energy in North Carolina,” said David Fountain, Duke’s North Carolina president.
The program was mandated in the Competitive Energy Solutions for NC Act adopted last summer. The same law mandated the competitive bidding process now in place for Duke to award bids for as much as 2,660 megawatts of new utility-scale solar farms in the Carolinas through 2021. And the bill also required Duke to set up the Community Solar Program that Duke is currently proposing.
Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress are each offering rebates on up to 10,000 kilowatts of rooftop solar capacity. Each have set aside 5,000 kilowatts for residential rebates and 5,000 kilowatts for non-residential rebates. That second category has 2,500 kilowatts from each utility set aside for nonprofits. That leaves 2,500 kilowatts at each for commercial customers.
All of the residential and commercial rebates have already been awarded. Those and the rebates awarded to date to nonprofits total about $9 million. Duke says rebates for about 4,000 kilowatts of nonprofit solar projects remain to be awarded. That would total about $3 million worth of rebates.
Under the rebate program, Duke estimates customers can save up to 45% on the costs of installing rooftop solar.
Under the program, residential customers will can get a rebate of 60 cents per watt for installation of up to 10 kilowatts of solar capacity. Commercial customers can get 50 cents per watt for up to 100 kilowatts of solar. Nonprofit customers can get 75 cents per watt for up to 100 kilowatts.