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A Record Year for Solar Installations in North Carolina

North Carolina solar developers are ending the year strong, and that momentum is expected to carry forward in 2015.

The Solar Energy Industries Associationsaid this week that the state is on track to add more than 380 megawatts of new solar capacity (measured in alternating current) in 2014. That's would be a record for North Carolina. And it is all but certain to be broken in 2015.

All the major developers told me they expect to do more installations in 2015 than they did this year.

One driver of that is the expectation that the state's 35% tax incentive for solar construction will end Dec. 31, 2015.

Blair Schooff, head of development at the state's largest solar builder, Strata Solar in Chapel Hill, said his company is ramping up construction next year because of the incentive ending.

But it will be worth watching the N.C. General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 14, to see if there is some support for tweaking that deadline.

Last year, there was talk of ending the incentive early, and some legislators still will favor that.

But Joel Olsen, president and founder of O2 Energies in Cornelius, says he sees growing interest among conservative Republicans running the legislature in extending the tax incentive as an economic development tool.

Mark Fleming, president of the new state organization Conservatives for Clean Energy, says his group is trying to get the economic word out.

The most recent figures, he says, show that for every $1 in tax incentives North Carolina pays out, state and local government collect $1.93 in new taxes from the development that occurs.

“I think conservatives look at this, from a policy perspective, in terms of 'show me the numbers,'” he says. He also notes that action in South Carolina that will bypass utilities by allowing residents to lease solar projects built by developers on their rooftops has also attracted interest in North Carolina.

Frank Marshall of FLS Energy in Asheville says new pro-solar legislation in South Carolina makes it an obvious market for N.C. companies.

John Downey covers the energy industry and public companies for the Charlotte Business Journal.