CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - Duke Energy rolled out a program Monday that will offer rebates to make it cheaper for North Carolina customers to install solar-energy systems.
North Carolina is already the nation's second-largest solar state due to its dozens of large solar farms. State energy legislation passed last summer aimed to further expand the industry, in part by dangling new incentives to consumers.
Just 6,000 of Duke's 3.2 million customers in the state now own solar systems. Duke expects to add about 5,000 more by offering rebates under the legislation. The proposal, which has to be approved by the state Utilities Commission, also gives customers the cheaper option of leasing rather than buying systems.
Duke said it will file two more proposals this week. One would let customers share the output of a solar array without installing their own. The other would expand an existing program that lets large customers procure solar energy to offset the power they buy from Duke.
"We are structuring our program to give customers more flexibility on how to adopt solar resources," David Fountain, Duke's North Carolina president, said in a statement. "Of course, customers have to determine if solar energy fits their needs."
Despite generous federal tax credits and the falling price of panels, the cost of home systems has limited their appeal. EnergySage, which offers online quotes from solar installers, says a 5-kilowatt system in Charlotte costs about $16,000 before tax credits or rebates.
Duke's program would rebate 60 cents a watt for home systems, or $4,800 for a typical 8-kilowatt installation. Maximum residential rebates would be $6,000 for a 10 kilowatt or larger system.
Nonresidential customers would get rebates of 50 cents a watt, with a cap of $50,000. Nonprofit customers such as churches and schools, which often can't get tax credits, could get rebates of 75 cents a watt to a maximum of $75,000.
When Duke offered a similar program in South Carolina, about 2,000 customers took rebates. Another 2,000 customers installed solar system even without rebates, reflecting what Duke says was increased consumer interest spurred by the program.
In North Carolina, Duke expects the rebate program to triple privately-owned solar capacity to 150 megawatts within five years. Duke said it would seek to recover the $62 million cost of the rebates through rates paid by customers.
While Duke has butted heads with the solar industry in recent years over the pace, technical requirements and locations of new solar farms, the rebate program finds both on the same side.
Duke worked for two years with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, which represents the industry, to develop the rebate program. Solar installers would likely benefit from lower prices to consumers.