James Montgomery, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
January 29, 2014 | 6 Comments
North Carolina: Back in the Spotlight
The latest net-metering skirmish occurred this week in North Carolina, with Duke Energy officials publicly urging that current "decade-old" net metering policies be readdressed. At the center of the thrust is a desire to change the rules to pay residential solar homeowners wholesale rates of 5-7 cents/kWh, rather than retail rates of 11 cents/kWh. "Why are we paying more? Eventually customers pick up that tab," said Randy Wheeless, PR manager for Duke Energy. "We think we're paying too much, and we think that needs to change."
Duke is looking at examining its net metering policies "holistically" and how they should be addressed in the future, but claimed there's no timetable on when that's taking place or when any filings will be made with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. With only 1,300 homes in North Carolina with net metering, now is the right time to modernize those policies and regulations, he said. He acknowledged that the company's CEO has been "doing media visits" and addressing the net-metering issue, though the topic has become "out there a little more than we probably anticipated." Last year it was "talked about in general terms, but it seems to be getting more specific now."
Actually the company had already decided to undertake two studies to comprehensively understand net metering and distributed solar generation, according to Rábago: an analysis of their impact to its operations, and then a second study to derive the actual economic costs vs. benefits. This week's public statements from Duke, and no evidence of filing any such reports with the state commission, suggest they're jumping to conclusions about net metering's impact.
Critics immediately began lining up against Duke's net-metering statements, with people literally petitioning outside their offices. One suggested that Duke's position to lower its payment to its solar customers will hurt disadvantaged communities the most, and is curiously at odds with how the utility has raised rates three times in the past three years to cover its existing power generation and infrastructure: "How hypocritical can you be?"
North Carolina is no stranger to solar energy controversy. It was at the front of those aforementioned RPS repeal efforts — including a memorably questionable voting procedure. But the state actually has been among the nation's best solar success stories, runner-up to California for most installations in 2013, according to SolarBuzz, most of that growth in the commercial-scale segment. Duke's regulated entity currently purchases around 300 MW of solar in North Carolina, plus it owns about 10 MW of solar from a pilot program a few years ago. The unregulated portion of the business has about 60 MW in the state which it typically sells to co-ops or other municipal utilities, not Duke Energy.