RALEIGH, N.C. – Lawyers for monopoly power company Duke Energy were on defense at a February 7 hearing before the North Carolina Court of Appeals over state regulators’ decision last year, at the utility’s behest, to slash financial incentives for residents seeking to adopt rooftop solar.
Attorneys for a coalition of clean energy advocacy organizations hammered Duke Energy and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, or NCUC, highlighting utility regulators’ blatant violation of a state law that bypassed the mandatory independent cost-benefit analysis required for any major rule changes to North Carolina’s energy policy.
During a post-hearing teleconference, a senior official with 8MSolar, one of the state’s largest rooftop solar installation companies, painted a grim picture. They cited widespread damage inflicted on the rooftop solar industry since the policy decision, known as the net metering rules change, supported by Duke and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, was implemented last October.
“Since October, when net metering was no longer an option for solar customers, we saw on the residential side a 40 to 50 percent decrease in new people signing up to go solar,” said Bryce Bruncati, director of residential sales for 8MSolar.
“On the commercial side, it’s been even more drastic, with a 70 to 80 percent decrease in commercial operations looking to go solar. And it’s not just our company. We are seeing this across the board among the solar installation industry,” he said.
“Accessibility is now a big problem for working families. The exact people we want to go solar, save money on their electric bills and be a part of the green revolution are not able to do so now because the savings aren't there anymore,” added Bruncati.
Brucanti’s warning echoes sentiments of one solar installer, who told The News & Observer last month that the cuts were “killing” the industry in North Carolina.
Clean energy advocates at today’s hearing emphasized rooftop solar as the swiftest, fairest and most cost-effective method to transition North Carolina away from fossil fuel–generated electricity. They accused the NCUC of disregarding compelling evidence, including that of Attorney General Josh Stein, which demonstrated the benefits of net metering for all customers.
Caroline Leary, Environmental Working Group general counsel and chief operating officer, slammed the commission for ignoring H.B. 589, a 2017 state law mandating the NCUC order an independent net metering cost-benefit analysis instead relying on Duke Energy's biased calculations.
“The commission deliberately sidestepped H.B. 589, refusing to conduct an independent, thorough cost-benefit analysis over the state’s net metering policy, and chose instead to blindly rely on Duke Energy’s deeply flawed cost analysis,” said Leary.
“This regulatory maneuver is a calculated effort to sustain Duke’s monopoly control over its captive ratepayers statewide, acknowledging rooftop solar as the sole source of competition against traditional utility giants like Duke,” she said.
Pointing to similar detrimental effects in California following net metering changes, Leary highlighted massive layoffs and business closures in that state, where more than 17,000 jobs have vanished, along with numerous companies that have gone bankrupt.
The clean energy groups called on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to prevent the destruction of the state’s rooftop solar industry, criticizing his silence despite numerous pleas for assistance from solar companies over the past two years.
NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren denounced Duke Energy’s long-standing claim that residential rooftop solar is subsidized by others, pointing out the company's obstruction of a proper cost-benefit analysis to validate this argument.
“Duke Energy and other U.S. utilities have claimed for 12 years that ‘rooftop solar homes are subsidized by others,’” Warren said. “That’s their key argument for killing competition from solar. But Duke vigorously blocked the cost-benefit analysis that would show the truth, and the rubber-stamp regulators agreed – without even conducting a hearing.”
The clean energy groups say solar power on roofs, parking areas and the ground is still a strong value for most customers, but Duke Energy and the regulators have seriously damaged the most important industry in North Carolina.
Ziyad Habash, of Sunrise Durham, emphasized the state’s responsibility to combat emissions and challenge Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing, the corporate environmental and sustainability claims that fall short of reality.
“We live in North Carolina, so we’re responsible for truly cleaning up emissions here, and that means challenging Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing,” he said. Sunrise is a youth-led movement focusing on the climate crisis and a transition to clean energy.
“We should be really working with these solar companies and communities to flood new rooftop solar panels onto every rooftop.”
The coalition challenging the commission’s net metering order includes EWG, NC WARN, Sunrise Durham, 350 Triangle, 350 Charlotte, N.C. Climate Solutions Coalition, N.C. Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live, along with retired chemical engineer Donald Oulman.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.