As another long legislative session drags on in North Carolina, once again the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) – which requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through renewable energy or energy efficiency – is under attack. Two bills with provisions to freeze the REPS are under consideration, with a likely deleterious impact on solar development in one of the country’s most active markets, and the regional leader in the Southeast.
This year’s session has been notable for the fast-moving changes that have made bills hard to track as they are shunted between committees and passed back and forth between the House and Senate. While the status of any individual bill could change at any moment, a quick overview of key energy bills is provided here to help North Carolinians keep up the pressure on their elected officials to protect the clean energy jobs and economic development that solar and other renewable resources have brought to the state.
North Carolina is a recognized leader in renewable energy, primarily as a result of its fast-growing solar market. The state now has more than a gigawatt (1000 megawatts, MW) of solar, ranking it fourth nationally, and last year almost 400 megawatts were installed, trailing only California. The benefits brought by solar development have been significant: according to a study released by Duke University in February, the state’s solar industry and its suppliers now employ more than 4,300 workers at 450 companies – representing over $2 billion of direct investment in the state, the bulk of which is going to economically-challenged rural areas.
Policies such as the REPS, enacted in 2007, along with a generous renewable energy tax credit and local tax write-off for solar installations, are largely to thank for this economic boom. But the REPS is under attack in the General Assembly, the 35% state investment tax credit is set to expire on December 31st of this year, and North Carolina remains one of only four states that expressly prohibit third-party electricity sales, a growing practice that is driving solar development across the country. All of these topics are being considered in Raleigh.
H760: The Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 (or is it H332?)
The REPS faces perhaps its most viable threat to date, as language to freeze its requirements is now included in two separate bills: H760, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, and Energy Policy Amendments bill H332.
The first priority in the General Assembly is to pass a budget, and that process seems likely to drag on for a while longer. There is no deadline for ending the session, and as a reference point, the 1998 session lasted a record 170 days. The budget will eventually have to be passed, hopefully with the solar tax credit extension included, but no movement is required on any other bill – bills that met the Crossover deadline or were exempt from Crossover remain eligible for consideration in next year’s legislative session.
For now, we are watchful and waiting to send out action alerts for specific issues as they arise, so please stay tuned for continuing updates. In the meantime, we urge solar proponents to keep making their voices heard at the General Assembly through phone calls, letters, and even visits to Raleigh.
As we celebrate Black History Month, SACE is highlighting stories at the crossroads of energy and equity. Through my own work to design and install my own solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system on my home, I’ve become very familiar with the challenges in Tennessee. I've also reflected on how current utility policy in Tennessee is unfair and inconsiderate of the poor, low, and limited income customers. Here I share my experience, lessons learned, and hopes for a more equitable system.