The Southeast is rapidly becoming a hot bed for solar expansion, and Duke Energy is leading the charge. The company already owns or purchases 600 MW of solar capacity in North Carolina, and today announced that it is seeking to acquire up to an additional 50 MW. In South Carolina, Duke is expected to increase its solar generating capacity to 110 MW over the next six years. With solar and wind facilities in 12 states, Duke’s renewable expansion in North Carolina has led it to be fourth in the nation for installed solar power.
Supporting its expansion efforts, Duke is making significant capital investments in solar and renewable energy over the next five years. In North Carolina, Duke committed $500 million to increase its solar holdings in North Carolina; the company plans to spend $68.7 million in South Carolina to increase capacity; and Duke Energy Renewables is investing $225 million in building out solar projects for its commercial clientele.
Duke’s leadership in solar buildout has been supported by legislative and regulatory action. The South Carolina legislature passed progressive legislation, the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, that represented an equitable compromise between a variety of stakeholders and sought to create more affordable energy options for the state’s residents. Likewise, North Carolina has one of the most favorable regulatory and tax environments in the nation for renewable energy use, with new renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and a renewable energy investment tax credit, which accounts for 35 percent of the installed system cost, up to 50 percent of the consumer’s tax liability in a given year.
As Duke continues to expand its solar footprint, consumers should stay particularly attuned to the state of net metering, the policy that allows people who generate energy for their homes using rooftop solar arrays to be compensated for any energy that they produce in excess of their use. The question facing North Carolina policymakers is how best to equitably apportion the costs of net metering so that those without rooftop arrays are not unfairly charged for the rebates received by those who benefit from both the production of solar energy and the use of the electric grid during off-peak hours when the sun is not shining.
The expansion of solar energy in North and South Carolina represents national trends toward increasing reliance on cleaner, renewable energy sources. While access and affordability are always concerns, Duke’s solar expansion is setting a standard that other companies looking to diversify their energy portfolios and better serve their customer’s needs should follow.