Proposal would double state’s solar energy output

Story by: John Murawski, Raleigh N&O (reposted)

 

Solar energy has been far and away the most successful of the renewable resources power companies have developed in North Carolina since the state’s 2007 energy law required an increase in renewables and conservation.

Now advocates are pushing to double the state’s mandated solar output by electric utilities, saying promoting solar power also promotes jobs needed to install and maintain solar facilities.

A bill introduced Monday in the General Assembly raises the solar requirement from 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent of all retail electricity sold by 2018. If the mandate is not lifted, utility companies are likely to stop at 0.2 percent for solar power, which is one of the most expensive forms of green energy.

The bill’s sponsors are all mostly Republicans in the state House of Representatives: Tom Murry of Wake County, Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County, Chuck McGrady of Henderson County and Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County. The lone Democratic sponsor is James Crawford Jr. of Granville and Vance counties.

But the state’s two leading utility companies, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, don’t support making changes to the 2007 law so soon after its passage.

“The most efficient way to do this is to stick with the policy you’ve developed,” said Progress spokesman Mike Hughes. “We and others have made long-term investments based on the state’s policy.”

Duke Energy and Progress Energy are ahead of the current schedule on solar development. Not only have the two power companies passed their 2011 targets, as set in the 2007 energy law, but they are soon expected to pass their 2015 targets.

Raleigh-based Progress and Charlotte-based Duke have developed industrial-scale solar energy farms as well as household rooftop solar projects throughout the state.

According to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, a trade group for the renewable industry, the 2007 law had resulted in the development of nearly 60 megawatts of solar power in North Carolina. Three-fourths of the electricity comes from 20 projects that generate between 1 megawatt and 2 megawatts of electricity.

State energy policy allows the utilities to recover the cost of renewables and conservation projects through customers rates. Thus long-term contracts with solar farms, as well as incentives paid to customers to buy energy-efficient appliances, are covered by monthly bills all customers pay, just as costs for power plants, transmission lines, bucket trucks and other utility expenses.

Progress, for example, pays customers up to $10,000 for installing rooftop solar panels on their homes. The program was approved in November by the N.C. Utilities Commission.

The Progress SunSense program pays customers an upfront rebate of $1,000 per kilowatt capacity, depending on the size of the solar array, with the total rebate ranging between $2,000 and $10,000.

As part of the SunSense program, Progress is also offering a monthly bill credit ranging from $9 to $45, depending on the size of the solar array.

Duke Energy’s solar projects include a 8.5M megawatt household rooftop program that will install solar panels on customers’ homes, essentially creating mini power plants in neighborhoods throughout the company’s service area.

Duke is also buying electricity from SunEdison’s 15.5 megawatt solar farm in Davidson County