This is the first in a five-part series about the “Solar in the Southeast” 2017 Annual Report.
It should come as no surprise that some utilities in the southeast have more ambitious solar programs than others. And with solar tariffs the federal government recently announced, it’s rather timely for us to assert that the sun is still shining on solar in the Southeast.
SACE’s inaugural “Solar in the Southeast” 2017 Annual Report demonstrates sustainable solar momentum. The report identifies both leaders and laggards and examines the drivers behind those ambitions.
Duke Energy Progress is a clear leader with more than double the watts per customer solar ratio used to compare and contrast performance. Progressive legislation in North Carolina enabled this leadership along with their sibling, Duke Energy Carolinas. Georgia Power’s solar programs were induced by orders of the Georgia Public Service Commission but attractive solar economics have reinforced that opportunity.
As our Executive Director, Steve Smith, stated, “Using the unbiased watts per customer metric, we are able to see which regions and utilities are planning to remain dedicated to bringing affordable solar to their customers, and those who need a serious course correction. It is our hope that this data will be used to make informed planning decisions across the board.”
Some of the large utility systems have seen the light and others remain in the dark. Our large utility ranking covers 13 systems that directly or indirectly serve more than 500,000 customers each.
Location, Location, Location
It’s important to note that the seven states of the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) continue to rely on a traditional utility model. Electricity is provided by monopolies – whether they are investor-owned utilities, municipal public-power providers, or member-owned cooperatives. There is no market competition; so the location of a home or business dictates your electric utility and, effectively, the extent of your solar options.
The good news is that many utilities, particularly the investor-owned utilities who understand the favorable economic trends, are expanding their solar portfolios. Solar in the Southeast includes a four-year forecast exhibiting that increased ambition. Much of the growth in the SACE forecast represents existing contracts and commitments that are highly certain (even against the cloudy backdrop of recently-enacted solar tariffs).
There are, however, some utilities that have, thus far, failed to recognize this new economic reality for solar. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Santee Cooper, and Seminole Electric Cooperative are not forecast to add solar at a significant pace. These utilities operate in a public policy vacuum and the slow pace of solar reflects outdated thinking within the utility’s management.
Subsequent installments from this series will delve deeper into four topics emphasized in the report:
- The Rapid Growth trajectory of the solar market in the Southeast,
- Application of the watts per customer ratio for Identifying Leaders (those currently at the top as well as those with ambitious growth plans that we call “SunRisers”),
- The Utility-scale Dominance we have been witnessing (plus corresponding challenges and opportunities for Distributed Generation), and
- Lagging utilities earning the dubious distinction as “SunBlockers.”