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Here are some of the other stories catching our attention.

Solar Rebates Go Quickly, So Some Try To Boost The Odds

Duke Energy's solar rebates help homeowners, businesses and nonprofits pay for the cost of installation.
Duke Energy's solar rebates help homeowners, businesses and nonprofits pay for the cost of installation.

Duke Energy will offer another round of rebates for home solar installations in January. If the past two years are any indication, they'll be snapped up quickly and there won't be enough money to go around. Some consumers and installers are plotting how to boost their chances.

Getting a solar rebate in North Carolina using Duke's online application form is kind of like trying to buy tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. When the website goes live on Jan. 2, savvy consumers or their installers will be waiting at their keyboards.

In Charlotte, Renu Energy Solutions has it figured out. The company deploys an army of 40 employees on rebate morning to file applications for its customers. It's an all-hands-on-deck situation, said sales coordinator John Sheldon.

"Every employee has a laptop, every employee is waiting for that Duke Energy rebate window to open at 9 a.m. on the 2nd. And every employee will submit the rebate. And within two minutes this year, we had submitted over 150 applications," Sheldon said.

Sheldon said thanks to their system, all of Renu's customers who applied got rebates in 2019. That's way above average. Last year, more than 3,700 homeowners applied, but only about 40% got rebates, according to Duke.

And some homeowners are using other strategies to increase their chances. Under Duke's rules, this year's rebates technically are available to anyone who installs solar panels during 2020 – or in the prior 90 days. That 90-day window begins Thursday, Oct. 3, so installers like Renu are urging potential buyers to act now, so they can be in line for rebates on Jan. 2, Sheldon said.

"This week is extremely important for people considering solar because of an incentive that is now in play for homeowners to take advantage of. It's a rebate. So it's money back off the system's cost. And that helps bring down the break even point of acquiring a solar system," he said.

Sheldon said getting an early start is important because buyers will need what's called an "interconnection number" from Duke to submit along with their rebate applications in January.

"It takes some time. It could take as many as three weeks … which means that if you want to have that ability to get the rebate on Jan. 2, this is the time to take advantage of the rebate by getting in line and getting your interconnection number," Sheldon said.

Rebates Drive Sales

John Mock of south Charlotte was one of those who got in line early last year with an October installation. He said the Duke rebate – and a 30% federal tax credit – were critical to his decision to install solar.

"Oh, it was primary, primary," Mock said. "The system cost $18,000 and I got $5,600 back from Uncle Sam. And as a matter of fact just (the) day before yesterday I got my $3,000 rebate back from Duke Power. So that cut the price in half and that made it a no-brainer."

This is the third year of Duke's five-year, $62 million North Carolina solar rebate program, which is required by a 2017 state law. Homeowners can get up to $6,000, which could pay for as much as one-third of the cost of a solar system, depending on size. Rebates for businesses are up to $50,000 and for churches and other nonprofits, up to $75,000.

Rebates have been a great selling point for installers. But they do go quickly, said Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless.

"We have a very hardy rooftop solar community that's promoting solar to residential customers and they're doing quite well in taking these rebates," he said. "So, it's been a very popular program. It's coming up again. It probably should go in a day or two."

Rebate applications are accepted online only, and rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, Wheeless said. If you missed out on a rebate last year, you can't reapply, but he said hundreds of people got in off waiting lists each of the past two years when other other rebate holders didn't follow through on their plans.

"Last year, you know, about 500 people came off the waiting list and did get a rebate. So we've done well to try to accommodate as many people as possible," Wheeless said.

Another tactic some consumers are using to make sure they get rebates is to install systems in the summer, but waiting until that 90-day window to flip the switches, says Sheldon. That way, their 2019 installation qualifies for a 2020 rebate.

Solar Tour

If you're interested in learning more about rooftop solar, there's a bicycle tour of solar homes in Charlotte's Plaza Midwood neighborhood from1-4 p.m this Saturday. Info at CleanAirCarolina.org.

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.