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Exploring how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

NC attorney general wants a delay in Duke Energy's proposed rooftop solar changes

Duke Energy has reached an agreement with some solar groups and installers to change the way it pays solar panel owners for excess energy.
David Boraks
Duke Energy has reached an agreement with some solar groups and installers to change the way it pays solar panel owners for excess energy.

North Carolina's attorney general wants state regulators to delay approval of Duke Energy's proposed overhaul of rooftop solar rules and incentives.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission is considering the utility's plan that would change the way owners of rooftop solar panels are paid, known as "net metering." It would add a $10 monthly charge for solar users only and mean lower payments to solar owners. Those payments would vary by time of day and energy demand. Duke Energy says it would better align payments with the cost of electricity.

The proposal also comes with a new solar rebate program to replace one that ends this year. The program would come with new strings attached — applicants would be required to have all-electric buildings or convert gas hot water, heating and other appliances to electric.

Several industry and environmental groups support Duke Energy's plan, saying it would reduce demand for energy from the grid while preserving some incentives. Those groups and Duke Energy filed an agreement with regulators in November supporting the changes.

"The breakthrough for the (November) settlement really was how do we align interests so that customers who make that private investment still save substantial money on their utility bills at the same time that they're helping to reduce costs for the grid as a whole, by shifting usage off periods of peak demand," said David Neal, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The SELC represented Vote Solar and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in negotiations toward the settlement. Besides Duke Energy, other parties included the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, solar service company Sunrun Inc. and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Other groups, including some solar installers, don't like the proposal. They estimate it would reduce payments 25% to 35% and worry it will disincentivize people to install solar panels.

The change is part of a series of energy reforms being considered this year and required by the state's 2021 energy reform law.

In a filing with regulators this week, the attorney general's office called for postponing consideration of the plan to allow further analysis of what role rooftop solar should play in meeting the state's goals for reducing carbon emissions.

A spokesperson said Attorney General Josh Stein would not comment because it is "an ongoing matter."

But his office said in its utilities filing Tuesday:

"The (Attorney General's Office) is supportive of incentives for installing residential rooftop solar, but believes that the Commission should postpone issuing an order concerning Duke’s applications. These dockets are closely connected to other dockets pending before the Commission and may be impacted by analysis that has yet to be performed."

Asked for comment about the Stein's request, a Duke Energy spokesman said this in a statement: "Duke Energy believes it is important to move the net metering discussion forward and begin to build new solar programs that will help customers use energy more efficiently. We feel our proposed agreement and filings do that."

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.