By David Boraks
Duke Energy customers in North Carolina who want rebates for installing solar panels will have two chances to apply next year instead of one. State regulators last week approved the Charlotte-based energy company’s request to accept applications in January and July instead of just January.
Duke suggested the change after computer trouble this year led to confusion over who should get the first-come, first-served rebates.
“I think having the two windows of opportunity will help eliminate some of the crush we had in January of this year where, really, our computer system was not keeping up as it should,” said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless.
Duke also told regulators that solar installers complained the single application date made it difficult to sell systems all year long.
The change won’t mean an increase in funding for rebates. Half will be offered in January, the other half in July.
Next year will be the fourth year in Duke’s five-year, $62 million rebate program, which is required by a 2017 state law.
Homeowners can get up to $6,000, which could pay for as much as one-third of the cost of a solar system. Rebates for businesses are up to $50,000 and for churches and other nonprofits, up to $75,000.
Wheeless said the business and residential rebates are typically snapped up quickly when the online application period opens.
In January, Duke got more than 3,000 applications for a planned 1,600 rebates. Wheeless said the popularity shows “the program is doing what it’s supposed to do, which is spurring the adoption of solar in North Carolina.”
He said home solar installations have grown from about 6,000 before the rebates to about 17,000 now. However, interest has been slack among nonprofits.
“Even though our residential and commercial rebates go quickly, we still have $7 million available to nonprofits, churches or cities who want to go solar in their individual areas,” Wheeless said.
He also had this advice for homeowners who might be counting on rebates:
“If you’re considering going solar, and the rebate is a make or break for you, we would advise don’t start your project until you get confirmation from Duke Energy that you have a rebate,” Wheeless said.
“I think we’ve had some examples where people thought they had a rebate but they didn’t, and then suddenly they’re having to pony up that extra $5,000. So makes for a tough situation.”
Next year’s first rebate enrollment period starts on Jan. 4, 2021, at 9 a.m.