Duke Energy Carolinas Customers Lead South Carolina in Private Solar Adoption
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Duke Energy Carolinas has achieved a major milestone in its support of solar energy as more than 5,000 of the company's South Carolina customers have installed solar panels on their homes and businesses, reaching a legislative goal for customer-owned solar capacity.
Customers can still install solar - and sell the electricity they produce to Duke Energy at the same price the utility pays for electricity generated by large solar power plants - even though the company has reached the capacity limit.
The net metering incentive enabled Duke Energy Carolinas - the utility that primarily serves the Upstate of South Carolina - to achieve its goal of 40 megawatts of private "rooftop" solar well in advance of the 2020 target. Duke Energy Progress - the utility serving the northeastern part of the state including Florence and Sumter - is well on its way to meeting its goal of 13 megawatts of private solar, as well.
These goals and the incentives that helped achieve them were a result of landmark legislation passed by South Carolina's General Assembly in 2014, commonly known as Act 236.
Solar policy that works
As a result of Act 236, Duke Energy and its customers have helped make South Carolina one of the country's greatest success stories for renewable energy. In 2017, South Carolina jumped to No. 8 in the country for the amount of solar installed during the year.
Act 236 provided a framework for customers to install solar on their homes and businesses through strategic programs like the net metering incentive and rebate offerings. The net metering incentive was a component of a larger 2014 settlement agreement with the solar industry, environmental groups and South Carolina's utilities, and was intended to spur the residential solar market at a time when solar costs were higher. In addition to the net metering incentive, the company has provided more than $50 million in rebates as an extra incentive for customers who wanted to go solar across its South Carolina footprint.
The significant response from Duke Energy Carolinas customers has led to the utility meeting its application capacity goal for the net metering incentive as established by Act 236. Beginning Aug. 1, 2018, Duke Energy Carolinas customers in South Carolina who want to install solar on their home or business will continue to have the option to do so. Duke Energy Carolinas will purchase all the energy their system produces similar to how the utility purchases renewable energy from large scale solar facilities. Those interested in participating in customer-owned generation can utilize Duke Energy Carolinas' Purchase Power Tariff. Customers wishing to learn more about this offering should visit https://www.duke-energy.com/business/products/renewables/generate-your-own/sell-all-purchased-power.
Duke Energy Progress is not expected to reach the capacity limit until 2020 or later. Customers there will still be able to sign up for the current form of net metering, and all current net metering customers are grandfathered into their current billing system through the end of 2025.
Collaboration is key
Andrew Streit, founder and former president of the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, has been actively involved in the solar marketplace in South Carolina for many years, and was involved in the discussions that brought about Act 236.
"Duke Energy's active participation in Act 236 was instrumental in moving solar forward in South Carolina," said Streit, who is director of business development for solar installer Power Factor. "It was a collaborative effort and the conversations were sometimes tense as the different sides wrestled complex issues, but they came together to build a solid program for the entire state."
"It is this compromise approach with many stakeholders at the table that is critical to getting the next phase of solar right in South Carolina."
That collaboration does continue, as the Office of Regulatory Staff has already brought stakeholders to the table again and discussion has started to address some of the issues that were raised during the last session of the General Assembly.
The goal has always been to propose a collaborative, sustainable solution to guide future legislation.
"What we've proposed all along is a reasonable path forward to continue to grow solar energy in South Carolina," said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, state president for Duke Energy in South Carolina. "We are hopeful this current effort will lead to consensus, common-sense legislation that is fair and balances the interests of all who call South Carolina home - solar providers, energy companies, and customers who use solar energy and those who do not."
Local success, local jobs
Bruce Wood was in the solar installation and service business in South Carolina long before it looked like it would be the successful industry it has become.
"There weren't many of us homegrown solar companies here in the early days of the solar industry," said Wood, owner of Sunstore Solar in Greer, S.C. "I like to think operations like mine really helped build the interest and confidence for homeowners and small businesses in how they could participate in renewables."
That was before Act 236.
"We've really been able to grow the business the past few years, once legislation really opened up the marketplace," Wood said. "But I know that some parts of that policy that got us here - like net metering - were incentives that were never intended to be permanent. If we get everyone back to the table we can work out a sustainable plan that will be good for customers, installers and the energy companies for years to come."