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New report: Solar power growing fast but NC could do much, much more

Solar powerThe good people at Environment North Carolina have released a new report on the state of solar power (“Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013″) and the news is both good and bad for North Carolina.

First, the good — North Carolina is in the Top 10. As the Environment NC folks note:

North Carolina’s solar capacity more than doubled in in 2014, bringing the total capacity to 557 megawatts. Growth in the number of large scale “solar farms” built across the state is mostly responsible for the increase. “Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in North Carolina which exciting,” said Dave Rogers, field director with Environment North Carolina.

Now the bad news: The state’s current solar capacity represents just a small fragment of what’s possible and North Carolina public officials could be doing a heck of a lot more to help — especially with respect to residential installation. To this end, the report touts several policies already at work in other leading solar states that would help, but that are, unfortunately, under constant assault from big fossil fuel interests and the conservative advocacy groups they help fund:

Enable third-party sales of electricity. Financing rooftop solar energy systems through third-party electricity sales significantly lowers the up-front cost of installing solar PV systems for consumers. The state should allow companies that install solar panels to sell electricity to their customers without subjecting them to the same regulations as large public utilities, such as Duke Energy.

Improve the state’s net metering laws. Net metering helps ensure that small commercial or residential customers are fairly compensated for the solar electricity that they produce. Investor-owned utilities should be required to reduce “standby fees” to encourage large commercial customers to install solar panels, and co-op and municipal utilities should be required to offer net metering to their customers.

Defend and strengthen the state’s renewable energy standard to require utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and to increase requirements for solar energy production. The state should also require all of the solar power that counts towards North Carolina’s renewable energy standard to be produced within the state.

Let’s hope politicians pay heed to the new report and that the encouraging — even stunning — growth in solar continues. At this point, it appears the only significant obstacles standing in the way in North Carolina are likely to be political.

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