Clean energy advocates seek injunction, court reversal of solar rule changes after regulators ignore law requiring cost-benefit review
The North Carolina Utilities Commission blatantly ignored state law in March by approving Duke Energy’s plan to lower financial benefits for residential solar customers, which would also harm the rooftop solar industry and all state power users, according to a legal filing today by a coalition of clean energy advocates.
The coalition today began the process of blocking implementation of rules, pending review of the case by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Attorneys for the coalition say a 2017 law, H.B. 589, explicitly requires the utilities commission to perform its own cost-benefit analysis of solar net metering, which compensates homes for power they send back to the electric grid.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein agreed. So did the bill’s conservative Republican author, former state House member John Szoka, who said relying on Duke’s own study would be akin to the fox guarding the henhouse.
But Duke fought a commission-led study, and the regulators went along with the utility’s own calculations, which the coalition says are deeply flawed and one-sided.
The advocates say Duke ignored strong evidence that solar net metering benefits even non-solar customers. Stein said Duke’s internal numbers omitted solar’s potential benefits.
“Net metering has long been a cornerstone of North Carolina’s residential solar program, enabling homeowners to generate their own clean, renewable energy and receive fair compensation for any surplus energy they sell back to the grid,” said Caroline Leary, general counsel and chief operating officer at the Environmental Working Group.
“By gutting these financial incentives at the behest of Duke Energy, the commission is effectively discouraging homeowners from adopting rooftop solar and will stifle the state’s efforts to curb power plant emissions to combat the climate crisis,” Leary said.
Several solar companies and other parties recently asked the commission to delay implementation of the new rules from July 1 to October 1 to give Duke more time to develop an online bill calculator required by the commission’s order.
They say the calculator has worked poorly in South Carolina since Duke pushed through similar rules changes there in 2022. Duke later joined the request for the new date, and yesterday the commission agreed to delay implementation of the new rules.
The coalition appealing the commission’s net metering order includes EWG, NC WARN, Sunrise Durham, 350 Triangle, 350 Charlotte, the N.C. Climate Solutions Coalition, the N.C. Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live and retired chemical engineer Donald Oulman.
Under the peculiar rules governing the utilities commission, the coalition must initially request that the commission itself grant a stay, or suspension, of its own order. Also, the coalition must notify the commission that the groups are preparing a comprehensive request for the NC Court of Appeals to overturn the NCUC’s order approving the new rules. That’s what today’s filings achieve.
“Duke Energy’s attack on rooftop solar comes straight out of the Edison Electric Institute’s playbook. Many utilities have spent years on a countrywide effort to protect their monopolies by trying to crowd out independently owned renewables,” said Ziyad Habash, a member of the Sunrise Movement Durham Hub.
In a related development, last week some 68 pro-solar nonprofits and businesses, about half of them solar companies, called for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Stein to insist on full and open proceedings on changes to nonresidential net metering. They reject attempts by Duke, in two cases involving rate increases, to hide proposed changes under thousands of pages.