New N.C. Policies Threaten Solar Investments

On Oct. 11, the North Carolina Utilities Commission ordered revisions to the state’s solar energy policies. The new order lowers the rates utilities pay developers for the solar energy they produce, and it shortens the period during which the developers can recover their investment.

Solar Panels

Photo of solar panels in Wise County, Va., by Jimmy Davidson

The federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 was intended to promote conservation and renewable energy. The law requires utilities to purchase renewable energy if the rates charged match the cost the company would have incurred to produce the same amount of energy.

The new North Carolina policy lowers these costs, thus lowering the rate utilities must pay for renewable energy such as solar.

Solar advocates worry this new financial model threatens the economic viability of solar projects, but Duke Energy cheered the news.

“We feel like it generally supported our philosophy of where we should be going with solar,” Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless told the Charlotte Business Journal.

In related news, five solar developers have filed complaints against Duke Energy subsidiaries in South Carolina for acting in bad faith by offering renewable energy contracts they say are too short for the developers to attract financing for the projects.

In its response, Duke noted its obligation to purchase renewable energy under PURPA but stated that the terms it offered need not be “reasonably financeable,” according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

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