Though North Carolina is ranked second in the nation for total installed solar PV capacity, there are still many NC residents who don’t have the necessary sunny sight conditions or face some other obstacle to “going solar.” Here at NCSEA, we hope that the community solar model of solar development can make solar more accessible to all North Carolinians. The community solar model of solar development allows North Carolinians to jointly own a solar facility or subscribe to a portion of a facility’s output. These systems are either owned by utilities or solar developers or directly owned by a group of neighbors or customers. Read more about the state of community solar in North Carolina here.
House Bill 589, which became law one year ago, requires Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) and Duke Energy Progress (DEP) to offer at least 20 MW of community solar in each of their territories. The utilities filed their initial Community Solar Program plans in January, and NCSEA engaged in the docket throughout the spring and early summer.
The initial Community Solar Program proposed by Duke Energy was flawed and lacked economic benefits for participants, as NCSEA noted in our initial comments on the docket filed in April. After NCSEA and other intervenors filed their initial comments, Duke reached out to certain intervenors to discuss ways in which the proposed Community Solar Program could be revised. Over the course of the spring, Duke overhauled the Community Solar Program it initially proposed, and submitted a revised program with their Reply Comments in early June.
It should be noted that NCSEA supports Duke’s stated goals for their revised plan: lower upfront monthly subscription fees; monthly on-bill credits and an associated net monthly bill; and allowing larger capacities for the community solar projects. However, the actual content of the revised Community Solar Program laid out by Duke is prohibitively expensive and calls for an unnecessary delay. As such, NCSEA objects to the revised program proposed by Duke on the following grounds:
- The revised timeline indicates that program implementation will be delayed until at least 2021 in DEP and 2022 in DEC territory. (NCSEA’s Reply Comments, pages 2-4)
- The revised program proposes a gross increase of $3,440.80 from the original proposed $500 subscription fee. (NCSEA’s Reply Comments, pages 4-6)
- Duke proposes to purchase electricity at prices above the current avoided cost, but sell it to participants at the current rate. (NCSEA’s Reply Comments, pages 7-9)
- There are insufficient low-income customer incentives in the revised program proposal. (NCSEA’s Reply Comments, pages 9-10)
The initial program proposed by Duke projected a one-time $500 subscription fee to be paid by the customer wanting to share solar generated by a one MW solar project. In the revised program proposed by Duke, they project a lower upfront subscription fee of $295.20 plus an additional monthly fee of $15.19 over a 20-year term. Though Duke did provide program elements supported by NCSEA such as on-bill credits, monthly payment plans, and a lowered up-front cost, increasing the overall cost of participating in the program by $3,440.80 renders the revised plan untenable.
NCSEA appreciates Duke’s efforts, and their support for several proposed modifications offered by intervenors, including Sierra Club’s proposed modification to allow for third parties to provide funding assistance to low income subscribers wishing to enroll in the program. However, the twenty-five-fold increase in cost and delay in projected start date are unacceptable, and NCSEA believes that Duke should revise the program once more to offer the lowest possible cost to subscribers and a commercially reasonable time frame for implementation.
As always, NCSEA will monitor this docket as we wait for the NC Utilities Commission’s order, and will update our members as soon as more information is available.