At NCSEA, we are extremely proud of the fact that North Carolina is ranked second in the nation for total installed solar PV capacity. However, for many North Carolina renters or homeowners who don’t have the necessary sunny sight conditions or the upfront cash, the prospect of “going solar” seems out of reach.
Thankfully, over the past few years a new model for solar development and ownership has emerged that could make solar more directly accessible to all. Often called “community” or “shared solar,” this model of solar development can allow North Carolinians to jointly own a solar facility or subscribe to a portion of a facility through their utility. This model allows individuals, families, and businesses to directly participate in North Carolina’s national solar success story regardless of individual site conditions, home ownership status, or income level.
In North Carolina, as in most states, community solar systems are either owned and developed by utilities or directly owned by a group of neighbors or customers. Currently, there are only a few community solar facilities where a group of neighbors have gotten together to form LLCs to develop small solar facilities and then share the revenue generated. Since North Carolina does not allow for third party sales of electricity, the electricity produced by these systems cannot be directly sold to members or investors of these types of systems.
Right now, eleven electric membership cooperatives in North Carolina have taken the lead in developing utility-owned community solar systems for their member customers. Most of these systems allow members to pay a per-panel subscription fee up to a certain amount of panels. In exchange, these customers are given either a fixed or variable credit on their electricity bills for the amount of energy these panels produced. Since North Carolina does not have any laws requiring virtual net metering for cooperatives or investor-owned utilities, these bill credits are nearly always based on the utility’s avoided cost of energy as opposed to a credit calculated at the full retail rate of electricity (in other words, the per kWh credits are less than the per kWh price customers pay for their electricity consumption).
House Bill 589 will soon require Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) and Duke Energy Progress (DEP) to offer at least 20 MW of community solar in each of their territories (for a total of 40 MW). Once these programs are operational, DEC and DEP customers in counties with or adjacent to these utility-owned community solar facilities will be able to purchase 200 watt subscriptions. Similar to the community solar offerings of the electric cooperatives, these Duke Energy community solar systems will give subscribers bill credits based on the utilities’ avoided cost of energy. On December 19, 2017, the North Carolina Utilities Commission established the rules for the DEC and DEP community solar programs and directed the utilities to file initial program plans by this coming Tuesday, January 23rd.
NCSEA will keep our members informed about the development of these new utility-owned community solar offerings while continuing to advocate for other models and varieties of community/shared solar across the state.