Duke officials knew plan would cause market-killing 30% hit to block of solar customers; Attorney General agrees case must be postponed due to 2017 law
NC WARN’s engineer has uncovered more evidence that Duke Energy’s proposal to change rooftop solar rules would choke the industry’s stability if approved by state regulators. Engineer Bill Powers’ analysis of Duke’s own data obtained during a regulatory challenge show the utility knew its plan would cut value to countless homes adding solar panels by 30 percent even while touting it as a model for the nation.
The finding supports solar installers’ recent calculations that Duke Energy’s plan would cut 25-35% of value for their average customers. Seventeen solar companies* are now calling on Governor Cooper and Attorney General Stein to protect their growing industry from Duke Energy’s proposal, calling it part of a national utility “playbook” to undermine solar competition that also would thwart Cooper’s climate goals.
Few markets involving any type of product or service can withstand a one-third drop in value to the customer.
The jaw-dropping 30% numbers were not included in Duke Energy’s November proposal filed with the NC Utilities Commission to change net metering, a process that credits homes when they feed unused solar power onto the electricity grid. Nor did they arise when Duke first rolled out the same plan 18 months ago in South Carolina.
In fact, Duke and proponents have called its plan a national model to modernize rooftop solar that would cause minimal changes for solar customers and a mere “haircut” for solar companies.
Powers, a consultant with NC WARN since 2014, also is an expert witness in the roiling California fight over net metering. His analysis emerged from a sea of data Duke Energy was required to turn over during the discovery period in the NCUC case. Over one-third – and possibly all – potential solar customers would see a 30% drop in value according to Duke’s data. Some all-electric homes could see a smaller reduction in solar value if a “smart thermostat” incentive is approved in North Carolina after being rejected by SC regulators.
The 30% reduction numbers show that Duke officials apparently misled everyone involved, while knowing its scheme could devastate the rooftop solar industry. NC WARN will provide a full account of this and other findings by Powers on March 29, the deadline for initial comments by interveners in the NCUC case.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS SOLAR VALUE MUST BE STUDIED:
A 2017 law (HB 589) unequivocally states that the NCUC must investigate the costs and benefits of net metering prior to any rules changes. In November, Appalachian Voices and NC WARN cited that law to the commission in calling for such an analysis.
Last week, Attorney General Josh Stein told the commission the Duke case must be delayed due to this “analysis that has yet to be performed” and the need to determine what role rooftop solar will play in the state’s carbon plan due out by the end of the year.
The commission simply cannot defy HB 589. Duke Energy has long fought against studying the value of solar in this state despite alleging – as its singular argument for the rules change – that solar homes don’t pay their “fair share” compared to non-solar households.
A 2020 SC study and a national compilation of multiple studies (NREL) show that net metering is a net benefit for non-solar homes because it provides low-cost power flowing onto the grid at periods of high demand when the cost of power is high. Thus, solar helps avoid the need for the new gas-fired plants that utilities prefer to build to boost profits. Those gas plants raise customer rates, pollute our air and water and drive the climate crisis.
Duke Energy’s choke-solar scheme cannot survive an honest, independent study of solar’s benefits and costs. We appreciate Attorney General Stein’s call for this required study to be done