NC WARN, Appalachian Voices thwart attempt to “Fast Track” decision that could make or break small-scale solar, calling instead for independent value-of-solar study
Two clean energy groups today filed a complaint with state regulators about a stakeholder process they say was rigged to favor a Duke Energy scheme that would harm small-scale solar power companies and Duke Energy customers across North Carolina.
NC WARN and Appalachian Voices reported to the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) that the process – ordered by the commission in 2020 and involving dozens of businesses and nonprofits – was pre-arranged and “fast-tracked” to promote Duke’s scheme. During the stakeholder sessions, the two groups pressed for a fair discussion of alternatives to Duke’s plan and pressed for a thorough and independent study of the value of solar to the grid.
Currently, net metering policy requires that solar homes and businesses be credited at the retail kilowatt-hour rate for the excess solar power they supply to the grid. Duke Energy sells that excess solar to nearby power users, at retail rate. Although North Carolina had previously been slow to advance rooftop solar, falling solar prices and net metering have led to growth among solar homeowners and businesses in recent years.
“Duke Energy leads the US in impeding renewable power, and it’s trying to quash the growth of rooftop solar,” argued Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN. “The supposed stakeholder process was just a gold-plated platform for Duke to pitch its product that undermines the rooftop solar industry. Instead, the commission should order an independent study that measures the benefits of solar – not just the costs, as Duke Energy prefers.”
The two groups told the NCUC that Duke Energy withheld from stakeholders the data needed to determine how net-metered solar should be valued in the state – even while claiming that same data proves the need for the changes the corporation seeks. South Carolina regulators approved a similar Duke plan in May.
The Duke Energy plan hit obstacles in the stakeholder meetings as NC WARN and Appalachian Voices argued that much more scrutiny was needed and that Duke Energy’s plan would worsen and vastly complicate the financial prospects for those installing solar. For example, the Duke scheme pegs solar compensation to a “time-of-use” schedule and sets the highest rate of solar credits at 6-9pm when hardly any solar power is generated.
Energy expert Bill Powers of San Diego attended the meetings for NC WARN. The engineer has been involved for years in similar utility efforts to limit net metering across the US and noted that Duke’s arguments for its scheme had been negated by experience elsewhere.
Duke Energy contends that rooftop solar customers don’t pay their fair share of grid expenses, creating a “cost shift” onto other customers. Powers found that the same consultant Duke used when submitting its net metering proposal in South Carolina testified only weeks later in a separate South Carolina case that there was no such cost shift.
“We tried to get to the bottom of Duke’s claim that non-solar customers are subsidizing solar customers. But the data we received was always at the last minute and inadequate to support the claim,” said Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst for Appalachian Voices. “What is clear is that the net metering structure Duke is proposing makes customer-owned solar less affordable, and less accessible for NC customers, especially the low- to moderate-income customers that would benefit the most from lower energy bills.”
Having failed to gain consensus on its net metering proposal in the stakeholder meetings, Duke’s next step will be to file the proposal at the NCUC. NC WARN and Appalachian Voices are therefore calling on the NCUC now to initiate an independent value of solar study to obtain unbiased, transparent data on the costs and benefits of rooftop solar to the grid.
Whatever the outcome of that request, these groups say they and 23 other organizations that earlier backed the challenge to Duke’s scheme will continue to work toward rooftop solar policies that benefit all North Carolinians and allow the solar industry to thrive in the state.