A coalition of clean energy advocates has filed an appeal with the North Carolina Court of Appeals, contending that the state’s electric utility regulators violated state law when they approved Duke Energy’s plan to gut financial incentives for residential solar customers.
The coalition is petitioning the court to reverse changes the North Carolina Utilities Commission, or NCUC, made to solar net metering on October 1, asserting that the decision by regulators not to conduct a cost-benefit review, as required by law, will harm residential solar customers and the rooftop solar industry.
The legal dispute arises from Duke Energy’s efforts to slash the compensation paid to homeowners for the surplus electricity they supply to the grid, a process called “net metering.” The coalition says the changes make it harder for the state’s working- and middle-class families to install rooftop solar.
Attorneys for the clean energy advocates argue that House Bill 589, passed in 2017, explicitly mandates (Page 11) the NCUC to perform a cost-benefit analysis of solar net metering.
Both North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and the bill’s conservative Republican author, former state House member John Szoka, agreed that an independent analysis conducted by the NCUC is not just legally mandated but also pivotal to ensuring it conducts a comprehensive assessment before reaching a final decision.
Despite this consensus, Duke Energy vigorously opposed calls for a commission-led study and, instead, regulators leaned exclusively on the utility’s flawed calculations that largely ignored the benefits of net metering.
Caroline Leary, Environmental Working Group general counsel and chief operating officer, strongly criticized regulators for disregarding state law and underscored the significance of net metering, which has made residential solar financially accessible for average homeowners in the state.
“The state law requiring the commission to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis is crystal clear, yet regulators have flagrantly ignored it,” Leary said. “By reducing these financial incentives, the commission is effectively discouraging homeowners from installing rooftop solar, which will stymie the state’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and address the climate crisis.”
Earlier this year, several solar companies and other stakeholders asked the NCUC 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 rule changes there in 2022. Duke later agreed with the request for the new date, and the commission delayed implementation of the new rules.
In addition to NC WARN and EWG, the coalition appealing the commission’s net metering order includes 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.
A similar assault on residential solar recently occurred in California, following a prolonged battle between the state’s three investor-owned power companies and environmental advocates. The companies ultimately prevailed when state regulators greenlit their proposal to significantly reduce the financial incentives available to residential solar customers in that state.
Since that decision, in April, scores of well-paid solar installation jobs have been lost. The head of the California Solar and Storage Association recently said the number of rooftop solar installations in the pipeline has dropped by 40 percent.
NC WARN Director Jim Warren said today, “Duke Energy leaders are clearly determined to destroy the competition posed by customer-owned, local solar. They’re harming solar companies and the ability for North Carolina to help slow the climate crisis. It’s pitiful that state regulators are going along with it by allowing Duke Energy to violate the law.”