Trade group: Duke Energy’s comments are hurting NC solar industry

North Carolina’s renewables trade group says that Duke Energy’s recent public complaints about residential solar panel owners in the state being paid too much for their energy is scaring off potential purchasers of solar panels.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association told state regulators Monday that Charlotte-based Duke’s pricing threats amount to an anticompetitive business practice and should be quashed. The Raleigh group says potential solar customers are reluctant to outfit their homes and businesses with solar arrays for fear that reimbursements from Duke may be cut in the future.

Local solar developers say that Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility, is so large that its statements can stifle markets and industries.

“Duke Energy Corporation’s use of its market dominance to unfairly ‘chill’ the limited market available to Duke’s competitors is clearly bad for Duke’s competitors’ business, including our business,” said Dave Hollister, CEO of Raleigh-based Sundance Power Systems, in an affidavit filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke has said that solar costs have plummeted in recent years, and subsidies should be reduced accordingly. The company hasn’t said how much it wants to cut payments to residential owners of solar panels, but a company executive told lawmakers in January that cutting the payments is one of Duke’s top legislative priorities.

The Utilities Commission sets utility rates in the state, including the amount that Duke pays to owners of solar panels for electricity those renewables put on the power grid.

The issue has to do with “net metering,” which lets homeowners use the solar energy they generate but requires Duke to buy surplus electricity from those homes. The Utilities Commission determines Duke’s reimbursement rate.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association is asking the Utilities Commission to require Duke to honor all solar contracts signed and lock in on the solar reimbursements paid to households and businesses for at least 10 years. The group says such a guarantee would give customers the confidence to buy rooftop solar panels for their homes and offices.

The association says that residential solar panel owners are paid what they’re owed. The group wants the Utilities Commission to require Duke to back up the claim that it’s overpaying solar customers with research and analysis.

Staff writer John Murawski