Climate

Solar Gets A Win In North Carolina, But Not For Homeowners

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bob Leverone

North Carolina's booming utility-scale solar development has been bolstered by the state's tax incentive, which was extended Thursday.

North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory signed an extension for the state’s renewable tax credit into law Thursday, but environmental groups are still planning to rally next week against the anti-solar policies of the state’s largest utility.

It may seem counterintuitive to rally about solar just days after a key policy is extended, but not all solar policies are created equally. The tax law does nothing to address North Carolina’s restrictions on residential solar, which are the subject of Monday’s rally.

Extending the tax credit will encourage solar investment by creating additional market certainty for solar developers in North Carolina, but meanwhile Duke Energy — which provides half of North Carolina’s electricity — is stifling homeowners’ freedom to choose solar and halting development of a residential solar market, some environmental and solar advocates say.

While North Carolina does allow net metering, it does not allow third-party energy sales — which means homeowners have to buy solar installations outright and can’t use leasing options that are driving residential solar in other states.

“North Carolina has some of the most regressive policies in terms of access to solar energy,” said Monica Embrey, a campaigner with Greenpeace. North Carolina is only one of four states that doesn’t allow third-party sales, she said.

Greenpeace is one organizer for demonstrations next week, including a rally outside Duke Energy’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday.

The claim that North Carolina is preventing residential solar development is held up by the numbers. The state has unquestionably experienced a boom in solar installations. It is now fourth in the nation for installed solar capacity, and there was nearly 13 times as much solar installed in 2014 than in 2010, according to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). But most of that boom has come in the utility market, which moved from 26 megawatts (MW) of capacity installed in 2010 to 390 MW installed in 2014. Comparatively, the residential market has languished, going from 0.3 to 4.3 MW during that time period.

Nationally, the residential solar sector was about a third of the size of the utility-scale sector in 2014, SEIA says.

There is currently a bill, the Energy Freedom Act, being considered in the House that could expand access to residential solar.

Still, extending the tax credit, formerly set to expire on Jan. 1, 2016, and now set for a year later, should help the state economy — an analysis done for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association found that $1.93 has been returned to state and local governments for each dollar spent on the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit.

“Renewable energy is an important part of an all-of-the-above energy policy that produces clean power, creates jobs, and generates revenue in communities that need it most,” McCrory said in a statement Thursday.

The McCrory administration has been criticized for its close ties to Duke Energy, where the governor worked for nearly 30 years before entering office.

So, while Duke Energy continues its investment in renewable energy, supporters are left wondering when they will be able to cash in on the sun.