Shelley Vinyard,
Environment North Carolina

Report: North Carolina #5 nationwide for solar per capita, but it’s under increasing attack

For Immediate Release

Raleigh, NC– With roughly 4 solar panels for every 5 people, as of the end of last year North Carolina has more solar power capacity per capita than all but 4 others nationwide. But the Tar Heel State’s solar stature is under increasing attack by Duke Energy and their allies.

In fact, the state’s experience, detailed in Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center’s latest ranking of state solar capacity, is part of a growing trend: the places where solar is booming the most are those where utility interests are attacking it the hardest.

“The more solar grows here in North Carolina and around the country, the more big utilities, like Duke Energy, and their allies in the General Assembly try to stop it,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Director. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, lawmakers and others are working to undermine the policies that have helped us become solar leaders.”

The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have long held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.

But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model. 

Here in North Carolina, the General Assembly failed to renew tax credits for solar and also failed to pass the Energy Freedom Act, which would allow third party sales to compete with Duke Energy. In March, senators in the General Assembly introduced a bill that would place costly restrictions on solar and wind, and in some cases more restrictive than the state’s standard for coal-fired and nuclear power plants in the state. 

Elsewhere last year, utilities convinced officials in Hawaii and Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs. And early this year solar proponents narrowly defeated a high-profile lobbying attempt by California’s largest and most powerful utility companies to do away with that state’s net metering program.

Anti-solar salvos like these come as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of the renewable energy resource nationwide. In February solar cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country. Here in North Carolina we saw this amazing growth.

“North Carolina has become a leader in solar because of smart policies and it can just as easily fall behind if we don't maintain them. We lost an important incentive this year -- the state tax credit was crucial for homeowners and small business owners in particular -- and so far we don't have another policy in place to help them realize the energy savings solar can provide,” said Maria Kingery, owner of Southern Energy Management. “This is not just a missed opportunity for home and business owners, it's also a huge missed opportunity to continue to move our state toward a more secure and efficient distributed grid where more of our power is consumed at the source of generation.”

Small businesses, local elected officials, and average North Carolinians are also demonstrating their support for the pollution-free and ever more cost-competitive energy resource. Recent polls show more than 86 percent of North Carolina voters support policies to expand renewable energy.

"It is important that we as a community continue to explore new energy sources and clean energy sources. Solar power has been an important leader in delivering clean energy in this district and we've enjoyed the relationships with our cutting edge companies located here and look forward to supporting them in their efforts as they have supported our communities." - Representative Robert Reives, District 54

Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in North Carolina and the other nine leading-edge states, who make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, and nine including North Carolina have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid. Only North Carolina and two others lack strong net metering standards.

But Environment North Carolina warned that utilities weren’t letting up on their quest to erode such policies. For instance, Duke Energy has positioned itself to be seen as a champion of solar energy through a highly publicized $500 million investment in utility-scale solar. At the same time, Duke Energy has blocked efforts to allow for third party developers to sell power directly to customers. It is clear Duke Energy only supports solar as it benefits them. 

“Duke and others are trying hard to threaten our status as solar leaders,” said Kazal. “These special interest attacks are a desperate finger in the dike against the tide of support for solar. It’s time for Duke to stop blocking clean energy and ride the solar wave.”