Power Pair program offers thousands in savings for solar and battery installations

SALUDA, N.C. — Galen Koch moved to the mountains to be closer to nature, so as he looked for a way to power his new home, his first priorities were sustainability and reliability. His choice was a 14kW array of solar panels and two home batteries.

“It’s the sustainability part of it, using our own electricity and the battery backup is just in case we’re without power for more than an hour or two at any time,” he said.

The timing was right as well. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, installing the batteries and solar system this year, qualifies him for a 30 percent tax credit, and with the system joining the Duke Energy grid, he’s also planning to apply for $9,000 in rebates from the new Power Pair program.

The program, which got approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission in January, will accept 6,000 participants with newly installed solar and battery systems, in the hopes of learning how the new technology can help make the grid more reliable and sustainable.

Some of the customers in the program can allow their systems to become a sort of virtual power plant, allowing Duke Energy to tap into their home batteries a limited number of times a year, when energy is in high demand, and use that power to help supply the rest of the grid. Customers are then compensated for the energy used, on their monthly bills.

The idea is that with enough batteries connected to the grid, this could reduce the need to fire up more power-producing generators or reduce the need to buy power from neighboring utility systems when demand is high.

Koch said he’s curious how this will work in practice and has some apprehension about a company potentially taking control of his energy system, but he said the potential to do more good for his neighbors and potentially prevent more energy-related emissions convinced him to try to take part.

“If they’re using [the batteries] to keep from overtaxing the grid, then it’s good for everybody and it has very little impact on how we’re using our batteries,” he said.

Despite the rebates and tax credits, a solar and battery system still requires a large upfront investment. A typical system can cost around $35,00-$45,000, and while the combined savings from both programs can cut that cost by about 56 percent and should result in lower energy bills, it does take years to recoup that initial investment.

“It’s an expensive investment and for me, it’s just trying to do the right thing,” Koch said.

The Power Pair program launches in May, but new customers can work with their solar providers to see if upcoming projects qualify. Once the application is live they can apply here.

(WATCH: Why community solar projects struggle in North Carolina)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.