NC appeals court to decide fate of cost-saving rules for solar power

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday on the future of net-metering rules, the policy that allows solar customers to get money back on their energy bills for the power their solar panels produce.

In October, the new rules went into effect transitioning customers from a net-metering policy that offers a flat rate for power produced to a time-of-use rate.

A coalition of environmental groups and solar installers, who brought the case to the court of appeals, say the new rules are killing the industry, as time of use rates will make solar energy less valuable at the times when their solar panels are most productive. Duke Energy argues the new rate system ensures all customers are paying their fair share to be part of the energy grid.

At issue in the case is whether the North Carolina Utilities Commission effectively and accurately considered all of the costs and benefits of the net-metering program and the impact of the new rate system.

Representing the local solar industry at the hearing was Raleigh-based 8M Solar, which claims since the new rules went into effect, their head of residential sales, Bryce Bruncati has seen a massive decline in customers willing to invest in solar panels for their homes and businesses. He said customers are telling him the new rules are complicated and difficult to understand, or that it takes the cost of installing panels out of their price range.

“You gotta do some incentives, rebates or something to lower that cost or else people are not going to do it unless you have a Tesla in the garage and money’s not a thing and you just want to do it,” he said.

Bruncati said he believes there’s room for a compromise with Duke Energy on another incentive system. He said a bridge rate, which offers slightly smaller but more stable cost-saving metrics, or the newly announced Power Pair program, which incentivizes battery storage, could help lower costs for customers.

The Court of Appeals will weigh the case over the next few months. There is no deadline for a decision.

If the case strikes down the rule, Duke Energy and the NCUC will have to come up with replacement rules. Should the rule stand, the group behind the case plans to appeal.

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Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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