National effort to kill solar electricity ramps up in the Carolinas; NC WARN argues solar’s benefits in regulatory case

NC WARN has filed expert testimony in a state regulatory proceeding where Duke Energy is seeking to reduce the amount paid to large-scale providers of solar electricity.  We are urging the NC Utilities Commission to open a separate docket in which all stakeholders can benefit from ongoing “value of solar” cases currently in play around the U.S. 

Solar power has grown in North Carolina – adding thousands of jobs and other economic benefits – in spite of Duke Energy.  In the current “avoided cost” case, the monopoly utility has provided a list of what it deems the shortcomings of solar, while ignoring its many benefits, in an attempt to lower the amount paid for electricity from large-scale solar installations (larger than rooftop projects).


Despite spending millions to greenwash its corporate image, Duke’s long-range planning documents show a minuscule use of solar, in defiance of a state renewable energy requirement.  Duke is apparently counting on the abolishment of that REPS standard so it can keep building power plants, keep raising rates and keep blocking competition from clean-energy providers.  


NC WARN is urging the Commission to note that costs and benefits occur with all types of generation, and to recognize that the near-zero water use of solar, zero risk of fuel cost increases, zero toxic emissions, zero waste storage costs, and 25-30 year panel life provide tangible, measurable value to all North Carolina electricity customers.


As the growth of solar power rapidly changes the national energy equation, entrenched fossil fuel interests are pushing to kill renewables.  State regulators are developing policies that either help or harm the development of clean energy.  Fair assessment of solar’s value is particularly important in North Carolina because the state has a fantastic, untapped solar resource, but Duke is granted monopoly control over captive customers, and thus allowed to virtually lock out competition except as required under the REPS legislation.  


The value of solar power versus fossil fuels is addressed in the pre-filed testimony of NC WARN expert witness Nancy LaPlaca.  Highlights include:


Solar beat natural gas on economics in a Minnesota utilities commission decision in March.  Key factors included (1) 25 years of avoided natural gas purchases, (2) avoided costs of new power plants, (3) avoided transmission capacity, and (4) avoided environmental costs.


Solar photovoltaic power uses very little water – about 2 gallons per Megawatt hour versus coal power’s 692 gallons.


There are 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., but only 85,000 coal mining jobs.  Solar delivers more jobs per kilowatt than any other generation source.


North Carolina spends at least $2 billion annually to import coal and natural gas from as far away as South America.

Coal ash pollution like the Dan River spill demonstrates starkly that regulators must start

including the very real but uncounted costs of coal when deciding on power generation.


Cost-benefit issues relevant to North Carolina include environmental regulations on coal plants, including mercury, ash, air and water pollution, potential carbon costs, and current acid rain and ozone regulations.


There are many evolving issues such as energy storage that will continue adding advantage to solar energy as compared to fossil and nuclear power.


Solar adds value by reducing transmission-line “congestion” and the need for more power lines.


Solar is predictably available on hot summer days when power is most needed.


Distributed solar adds grid reliability and reduces the need for excess generation capacity. The National Renewable Energy Lab found that when variable generation sources – solar and wind – are spread out over a larger geographic area, costs are reduced because utilities can share overall generation resources.


Regional power authority PJM has concluded that solar PV contributes to a more stable grid system, and that 500 MW of PV on its system in August 2003 would have helped avert the grid failure in its region and Canada that left 50 million people without electricity.


Solar is reducing wholesale power costs in Ohio and Illinois.


Banks are investing heavily in clean energy. Goldman Sachs recently announced a $40 billion investment in solar financing. 


As for Duke’s assertion that solar power costs low-income customers more than other ratepayers:


-           Every new solar panel helps all customers by reducing Duke’s case to keep raising rates to build power plants. 

-           Every new panel reduces the enormous health impacts from coal power plants – which tend to be located in poor, minority and rural communities. 

-           If Duke really cares about customers, it will stop blocking “third-party” solar installations – successful in many other states – that allow companies to install solar for free on low-income homes and share the savings with the customer.