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Duke Energy’s proposed solar plan is being challenged by environmental groups

Duke Energy’s proposed solar plan is being challenged by environmental groups

Three climate justice nonprofits filed a joint challenge on March 29 to Duke Energy’s Solar Choice Net Metering proposal. They argued that the proposed changes would adversely affect future solar customers, especially those with low incomes. 

More than 17 companies have installed solar panels, and 54 non-profits opposed them. According to NC WARN (an energy and climate justice non-profit), Duke Energy has made changes to its net billing policy. 

It would allow Duke Energy to extract more from rooftop solar users, stated Ziyad Habash (leader of Sunrise Durhams). Duke Energy Campaign

According to the press release Duke’s proposed changes would result in a 25-35 percent drop in solar production value for the average homeowner.

These changes would also change net metering rates so homeowners are credited at an avoided cost rate rather than the retail rate. The avoided cost rate represents the price the utility company would have paid for the energy, while the retail rate is how much the utility company sells the energy.

According to EnergySage, net metering allows homeowners to sell any unused energy from their panels back to their utility company and receive a compensation. This can be a great investment for homeowners who can afford the out of pocket cost of panels.

Customers in Orange County will likely see a return on investment under Duke’s current net-metering plan within ten to twelve years. However, proposed changes could extend this payback period. 

Habash said Sunrise Durham opposed Duke’s proposal because it believes that solar investment will be less appealing to residents. 

Habash explained that your solar panels will have a decreased value if you are paid less for them or for the excess energy they produce. 

Noah Kittner, an assistant professor in UNC’s department of environment sciences and engineering, stated that customers will see a reduction in their electricity bills by using solar panels to produce their own energy. 

Kittner said that the proposal would only make solar easier for more wealthy households.

What I would say is that it probably makes it even less likely that low-income or marginalized communities that might benefit the most from installing rooftop solar  it makes it less financially attractive for them to install solar on their roof, he said. 

Support for the proposition

Despite opposition, other major environmental and sun-related groups in the region publicly supported Duke Energy’s plan. 

The proposal was signed in accordance with other solar businesses as well as clean energy advocates such North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, Vote Solar, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. 

We believe this agreement could set a stage for additional programs aimed at increasing solar accessibility while also helping the state meet its carbon reduction targets,” Lindsey Hallock (Vote Solar Southeast Senior Director), stated in a press statement. 

Randy Wheeless from Duke Energy Communications, wrote in an email that the new proposal would not cause any harm to rooftop solar panel customers. 

He wrote that we will compensate solar owners who have power returned to the grid at rates that are comparable to the value of the power at that time. 

NCSEA’s March 29 press release stated that the changes would provide significant up-front savings through a direct rebate, and will reduce utility bills for all N.C. residents by using new solar pricing signals.  

This is a proactive measure to be able keep financial incentives on offer that continue the industry’s long-term growth, Matt Abele, director of marketing communications at NCSEA said in an interview with DTH. 

Solar investment

Jan Carico, an Alamance County resident, said that installing solar panels was a great investment. It has been financially profitable for her as a single woman.  

It gives me independence,” she said.

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However, investing in solar panels can be daunting. Carico’s neighbors are among those that have expressed an interest in installing solar panel systems, but they don’t have enough financial resources. 

According to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, North Carolina ranks seventh in national solar energy capacity. 

Although the N.C. Utilities Commission has yet to approve the proposal, Abele stated that he hopes to see it approved before the end of this year. 

The opposition to the proposal still has submitted initial comments and will continue a legal battle against Duke Energy. 

Habash stated in an email that Sunrise Durham would submit a second round to the N.C. Utilities Commission to respond to Duke Energy’s arguments for the proposal. 

Duke Energy cannot be allowed put rooftop solar even further out of reach of working people. Habash stated this in a NC WARN press release. 

@MaggieM04248222

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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