Don’t lower Duke’s cost for solar power

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The N.C. Utilities Commission should reject Duke Energy’s request to lower the price it must pay for solar power it buys from North Carolina home-owners and small businesses.

Current regulations allow people who own rooftop solar systems to sign contracts with Duke Energy that allow them to generate their own electricity from the sun and sell any surplus to the company at 11 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s the same price households pay for electricity.

Company officials want to pay private solar energy producers what Duke’s generating cost is, which company officials say is between 5 cents and 7 cents per kilowatt hour for the company’s two regional subsidiaries. That’s also what Duke pays for power generated by large-scale, industrial solar farms.

The pricing rule was established to encourage the production of solar power in North Carolina – and it appears to be accomplishing that objective. The energy output of the state’s 1,300 rooftop solar panels has doubled in the past two years. That, combined with the rapid expansion of solar farms in the state has pushed North Carolina to second in the nation behind California in the growth of solar-power capacity in 2013.

Environmentalists charge that the giant energy company’s real objective is to slow the increase in rooftop solar systems that could threaten to shrink its customer pool as more and more North Carolinians buy and install solar panels to generate their own power.

Companies that design and sell solar power systems have seen their business increase over the past few years and expect that trend to continue. Many of them oppose Duke’s price request because they feel it will have a negative impact on their future revenues.

Solar power is not only a rapidly expanding cheap energy source, but it is substantially cleaner and safer than traditional coal, gas and nuclear power plants. State officials should continue to do all they can to encourage solar power generation, and one way to do that is to deny Duke’s request.