NC neighbors promote Solar development – Charlotte Business Journal
As North Carolina legislators consider ending some of the state’s incentives for solar energy development, legislators and utilities in neighboring states are increasing their efforts to attract it.
Mike Whitson of PCGSolar Inc. in Davidson says the two factors could leave the state losing its edge as the solar leader in the Southeast.
The Solar Energy Industries Association says North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for the amount of solar capacity installed in 2012. It projects that the state will rank fourth this year.
“I’d hate to see the state give up that hard-won lead,” Whitson says.
Florida is the only other Southern state to crack the top 25, ranking No. 17 in the nation.
But Whitson says South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee are all attracting the attention of solar developers. South Carolina has legislation pending that would let developers sell electricity directly to some customers and to institute a tax credit similar to the one that North Carolina is considering eliminating.
The tax credit appears to have an uncertain future in South Carolina. But there is considerable optimism about the prospects for the allowing limited sales of solar power directly to customers in the state.
State Sen. Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) introduced his bill on the proposal in mid-March. A similar bill was bottled up in committee in the S.C. House in February. That was largely due to opposition from utilities in the state.
But Gregory, whose 14 co-sponsors are almost evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats, expects the bill to gain traction in the Senate.
The Boeing Co. has a large solar project at its North Charleston manufacturing plant, he notes. That has raised the state’s interest in solar and given the industry a natural champion.
Gregory hopes to get a hearing in the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee this month and get the bill to to the Senate floor this session.
“Ideally, we will get it across the floor to the House this year,” he says. The House could then act in the second year of this legislative cycle.
The bill, allowing what are called “third-party sales,” does set limits on the amount of solar power that can be sold directly to customers in a utility’s service area. It can be no more than 2% of the peak demand.
But Gregory says businesses, churches, schools and military bases all ought to be able to take advantage of the law at that level. And it would be a considerable boost to the solar industry in the state.
In Georgia, a legislator has proposed a bipartisan bill — also likely to get final consideration next year — that would create incentives for developing large regional solar projects. The projects would have a monopoly on selling solar power in their region of the state, and utility customers could opt in to purchase solar power through Georgia Power Co.
Whitson also says Georgia Power and the Tennessee Valley Authority are offering to buy solar power at a premium price — about 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That is close to twice the price paid for solar power by North Carolina utilities. The offers are limited in size. But they should be enough to promote more construction in each state and may attract equipment vendors to the states as well.
Whitson works as a consultant and a developer for solar projects. He was part of an industry group that worked last year to establish a renewable-energy business political action committee in time for the 2014 elections.
Proposals in the N.C. legislature to eliminate the state’s tax credit for renewable-energy projects and scuttle requirements that utilities produce some of their power from resources will do damage to the industry in North Carolina, he says. And the moves come as surrounding states are beginning to reach out to attract solar developers and manufacturers who supply them.
He says the industry is likely to be particularly interested if South Carolina agrees to allow third-party sales next year. The North Carolina legislature is studying such a proposal. But it is not expected to come up for action in the current session of the N.C. General Assembly. So South Carolina could get ahead of North Carolina on legislation that would attract attention in the industry.