EWG, NC WARN, allies insist state law requires cost-benefit analysis for rooftop solar; Attorney General Stein has agreed, now signals no objection to full hearing
Solar power and social justice advocates* challenging Duke Energy’s attempt to weaken the economics of rooftop solar power in North Carolina today filed a motion calling for an evidentiary hearing so Duke officials can be cross-examined under oath about the lone reason – now-discredited – they want to change the rules.
Attorney General Josh Stein is also contesting Duke’s November petition with the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) that would dramatically alter net metering – the rule that requires Duke to credit solar households for excess power they feed onto the grid. Stein’s office said he does not object to today’s motion for the evidentiary hearing.
The AG’s attorneys typically are involved in cases where North Carolinians – and, in this case, an entire sector of the clean energy industry – have so much at stake.
Seventeen solar companies and nearly 60 pro-solar nonprofits have called on Stein and Gov. Cooper to protect rooftop solar from Duke Energy’s scheme, which has also triggered public protests and some 750 public comments filed with the NCUC, nearly all opposing the horribly complicated rule change.
State law requires the NCUC to conduct such a judicial-type hearing when there are disputes of fact in a case where intervening parties contest a utility request for rate changes and other projects.
The key dispute in this case involves another state law that firmly requires the NCUC to lead an independent analysis of all costs and benefits of net metering before any rules change, a requirement AG Stein has focused on. Duke Energy has long fought against such an independent “value of solar study,” offering instead its own numbers that focus on costs – but leave out key benefits to all state customers – provided by households that use net metering.
Duke’s sole stated reason for changing the rules is that solar-powered households don’t pay their fair share for remaining connected to the power grid. Evidence unearthed by NC WARN and other intervenors in this case totally destroys Duke’s claim. Even some of the parties supporting Duke’s rule changes have provided information showing rooftop solar is a net benefit to non-solar customers system-wide.
Other disputes of fact include just how much Duke Energy’s proposal would erode the value of residential solar investments (estimates range to more than 50%) and how much damage would it cause to North Carolina’s rooftop solar industry.
For a decade Duke Energy and other US utilities have fought the growth of customer-owned, rooftop solar because such power generation – especially when paired with on-site battery storage – is a direct competitive threat to the monopoly business model.
Duke thought it could rush this solar-attack scheme past regulators and the public without anyone challenging its sole and now-destroyed argument that solar households “don’t pay their fair share.” We look forward to getting the facts on the table at the Utilities Commission, and forcing Duke Energy officials to answer tough questions under oath.
*Environmental Working Group, 350 Triangle, 350 Charlotte, the NC Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live, NC WARN, NC Climate Solutions Coalition, and Sunrise Movement Durham Hub