Despite important partial win, the fight continues as NC WARN, Environmental Working Group, Attorney General, others insist state law requires full benefits of solar power be counted
Duke Energy and three rooftop solar installers have reached a settlement in a fight over the monopoly utility’s proposal to hobble North Carolina’s net metering program, with opponents of Duke’s plan calling the settlement a partial win even as they vow to keep fighting for rules that reflect the full value of rooftop solar for all North Carolinians.
Based on an initial review of the settlement, which was released just today, NC WARN and EWG say Duke was apparently required to make a number of concessions from its original proposal, which would have cut the value to rooftop solar households by 35% or more.
But the groups say the settlement – if approved – would leave Duke’s net metering plan extremely complicated, reduce value to customers, and be a step backward for rooftop solar instead of the forward progress needed to meet North Carolina’s climate protection goals.
The settlement is but one step in the fight at the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC). NC WARN and EWG say they and allies will continue to insist that the NCUC follow a 2017 state law that firmly prohibits any change to net metering rules until the NCUC conducts a cost-benefit analysis of its value to non-solar power users – a step that state Attorney General Josh Stein says is required.
New revelations last week show the eventual findings of that analysis will likely force Duke Energy to raise – instead of lower – the amount that it pays rooftop solar customers for the power they send to the grid, the process known as net metering.
NC WARN and EWG, who are helping lead legal and public opposition to Duke by more than 70 solar companies and pro-solar nonprofits, issued the following remarks in response to the settlement between the installers and Duke.
“After months of public and legal pressure, Duke Energy was forced to seek a compromise,” said NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren. “If approved, however, the new proposal would still be a step backward for the solar industry and leave Duke executives trying to lock in a high-carbon, climate-wrecking future, even as the NCUC faces a year-end deadline to plan for drastic cuts in emissions. Only in the alternate universe inhabited by utility executives can carbon reduction efforts can be achieved while limiting solar power and massively expanding the use of methane gas.”
“We understand that our solar company allies felt the need to compromise with Duke Energy in order to protect their businesses in the near term,” added Warren. “Duke has long threatened that if its original settlement with other parties was not adopted, it would force through even worse changes to net metering.”
“The fact Duke was forced to make these concessions to installers demonstrates that our position of resisting the company’s demand for the state to quash the net-metering program was right,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “But the settlement still falls significantly short when it comes to giving more people, particularly working-class families, the ability to access rooftop solar. Standing up to bullies like Duke Energy is the only language it understands, and we will continue to call on regulators to follow the law and do what is right for the company’s captive ratepayers.”
“The first rule of a monopoly is to maintain the monopoly, and Duke Energy is used to having its way with the state’s legislature and its utility commission,” said Cook. “The fight to expand consumer-owned rooftop solar is the only real option North Carolinians have to take control of their energy future. Clearly Duke Energy is worried it will not be able to compete if more of its customers put solar panels on their roofs.”
Dismantling Duke Energy’s only argument
Regardless of the settlement, the NCUC’s failure to conduct the statutorily-required cost-benefit analysis would be a clear violation of North Carolina law, say NC WARN and EWG. They also say any additional fixed fees imposed on solar customers creates discriminatory rates against them, which raises legal questions under federal law.
Duke’s only argument for changing net metering is now in tatters, say NC WARN and EWG. As even the consultant for proponents of the utility’s original proposal recently indicated, rooftop systems are a strong net benefit to non-solar customers. Duke’s only argument has been the opposite, while its lawyers have vigorously resisted calls for the cost-benefit study.
The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association’s consultant also wrote that, when societal benefits are counted, the value of rooftop solar is doubled. Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this year called on state agencies to account for such benefits in clean energy planning.
NC WARN, EWG, 350 Charlotte, 350 Triangle, Sunrise Durham, the NC Climate Solutions Project, and the NC Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live – all intervenors in the NCUC case – are honored to stand alongside more than 50 nonprofit organizations to press Duke Energy and state leaders for solar policies that will enable all North Carolinians to benefit from low-cost, solar energy and be part of the climate solution.