Carolina utility looking to keep customers by offering community solar More »
Worried about market share as more people turn to ever-cheaper solar energy, some utilities are planning “community solar” projects to retain customers looking for clean energy alternatives.
A recent Associated Press article noted the trend that SELC has been encouraging for years.
“It’s both an opportunity and defensive maneuver,” wrote AP reporter Emery P. Dalesio. “Sunshine-capturing technology has become so cheap so quickly, that utilities are moving to preserve their core business against competition from household solar panels.”
The article noted Duke Energy, for example, is planning a large community solar project in South Carolina this year. Customers can buy, or “subscribe” to, a number of a project’s panels.
“Anyone who has spent a summer in South Carolina knows we have an abundance of sunshine,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney of SELC’s Charleston office. “That has led to a boom in both solar production and solar power. We’re certainly hoping to see more projects like the one Duke is planning this year. It’s great for the environment, and great for South Carolina.”
The Duke project is scheduled to begin with a modest rollout through two of its subsidiaries, Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas. Chapel-Hill based SELC attorney Lauren Bowen says each subsidiary will build a one-megawatt project. Together, the projects will produce enough electricity to power more than 300 homes.
The full-scale plan, she said, is for a total of 14 megawatts, split between the subsidiaries.
Bowen says Duke has not revealed where these solar arrays would be built, but she’s excited about the opportunity for putting solar into the reach of more customers.
“Community solar is a fantastic way to bring the power of the sun to people who have traditionally been left out of solar’s benefits,” Bowen said. “We’re excited Duke Energy is exploring this cost-saving option for customers in the Carolinas.”
SELC has been advocating for utilities to both embrace community solar themselves, and to drop the roadblocks that make it difficult for private solar companies to build similar shared arrays.
Shared-solar systems have the potential to bring the cost-cutting benefits of solar power to renters, to homeowners living on tree-shaded lots, and to low- and moderate-income families who may be unable to afford the up-front costs of rooftop solar.
Customers who sign up get credit on their power bills for the amount of electricity their panels produce, which adds clean, emission-free energy to the power grid.
According to the AP article, Duke is also looking to add a similar community solar project in North Carolina, but has not provided details.
The sunny Carolinas seem like a great place to make this work on a bigger scale.
“The sun is so much a part of the culture in the South,” said Katie Ottenweller, an SELC attorney in Atlanta who focuses on solar energy. “It brings tourists to our beaches and helps get crops to market. But we’re just starting to tap the huge potential it has to power our homes, churches, and businesses. And the technology to do that is getting better, and cheaper, every day.”
Harnessing the South's Bountiful Sunshine
Despite the South’s abundant sunshine, solar energy is a vastly underutilized resource across the region. Recent developments, however, suggest that state policy makers and utility commissions are beginning to recognize the valuable role of solar energy in meeting the region’s electricity demand. SELC’s new initiative was launched to capitalize on this momentum and to help the Southeast reap the many benefits of solar power—including the many new jobs solar can deliver to our region—and reduce our dependence on outdated fossil fuels. Of all the renewable energy sources available today, solar power combines the greatest raw potential with the smallest environmental footprint.
Overcoming the Barriers
Despite growing recognition of the affordability, value and importance of solar energy resources, there are significant obstacles to achieving the South’s full solar power potential.
Utility Monopolies. Most of our states have no policies to require utilities to use renewable energy like solar. Many do have laws that are interpreted in ways that make it difficult for non-utility solar installers to offer common sense financing options to Southerners, which keeps these solar entrepreneurs from bringing jobs and clean energy to our region. These laws need to be clarified to give businesses and residents in the South the freedom of solar choice.
Utilities Taxing Solar Power. Even as solar energy has come down in price, many utilities are actually trying to make solar investments more expensive for their customers. In fact, some utilities want to charge households and businesses through punitive fees and charges for attempting to use solar power. These utilities ignore the significant benefits that solar energy provides to utilities and to all Southerners. SELC fights for consumers’ solar rights across the region, using the power of the law to ensure fair treatment for every home and business that goes solar. Read SELC’s Solar Bill of Rights.
Solar For All. Even though solar power is coming down in price, it is still out of reach for many Southerners, including renters, those with shaded lots, and low and moderate income customers. Our solar initiative is advocating new ways to make solar accessible to all Southerners, such as Community Solar programs that allow customers to participate in a solar project in their community and get credit on their utility bills.
SELC’s solar initiative focuses on removing these barriers so that solar energy will be widely available to consumers and businesses across the region, as well as highlighting the many ways solar benefits families, communities, and businesses in the Southeast.
Making Solar Accessible
We believe that the spread of solar energy is inevitable, but we are pushing the implementation timetable forward by working with state legislatures, the state utility commissions, and the utilities themselves to create opportunities for everyone to benefit from solar’s incredible potential.
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