2020 Trends Making and Braking Rooftop Solar in the South

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Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) announced its 2020 Solar “Makers” and “Brakers” list highlighting some of the most impactful policies affecting rooftop solar growth across the sunny South.

The 2020 Solar Makers include states, regulators and utilities taking action to encourage rooftop solar. This year’s Solar Brakers shed light on utility policies that undermine, and in some cases, completely put the brakes on rooftop solar as a cost-effective, clean energy choice for Southerners

“In a challenging year, we are still able to highlight a few bright spots in the Southeast where solar power policies are shining,” said Lauren Bowen, Leader of SELC’s Solar Initiative. “On the whole, we’ve seen some real consistency in the kinds of policies that encourage more clean, renewable solar power and those that dampen consumer access to solar power. Especially now, consumers need more opportunities to control their electricity bills, and we are encouraged by the Solar Maker trends leading the way.”

Solar is booming across the South as more homeowners turn to clean, affordable rooftop solar to meet their energy needs and state policy makers embrace local solar growth and the benefits that come with it. Currently the Southeast has over 12 gigawatts of solar installed, and over 14.5 gigawatts installed or committed. When SELC launched in 2018, there were approximately 25,000 homes and businesses in our six-state region with rooftop solar.  Two years later, that total has more than doubled.

People in the South have some of the highest residential electric bills in the country and going solar is one of the few options that customers have to reduce the amount of energy they buy from utilities and lower their bills. Yet, residents across the region interested in putting solar on their homes, schools or businesses must first consider their utility’s rooftop solar policies before making the investment to determine if it’s a feasible option

Southerners who want to learn more about solar policies and how their local electric utilities might be impacting solar can visit SELC’s Rates of Solar website. This digital tool summarizes complicated and often difficult-to-find rooftop solar policies for over 400 utilities across the region.

“The Rates of Solar website allows people to access the most up-to-date solar policies for hundreds of utilities across SELC’s six-state region,” said Jill Kysor, SELC staff attorney. “Our website provides simple, straightforward information for homeowners and businesses interested in rooftop solar about how utilities across the Southeast are treating those customers. As we update the website each year to capture policy changes, we are able to identify key regional trends that are making or braking rooftop solar’s growth in our region.”

Here are the 2020 Solar Makers and Brakers:

2020 Solar Makers

  • Significant State-Level Progress: Virginia legislation expands net metering and access to financing
    • This is the second year in a row that Virginia has been a Solar Maker because of groundbreaking clean energy legislation. The Virginia Clean Economy Act dramatically expands net metering, making rooftop solar more economical for a greater number of Virginians. A portion of this expanded capacity is set aside for Virginians earning a lower income, helping to broaden access to the bill-savings and other benefits of solar. The legislation also makes rooftop solar more affordable by ensuring that Virginians who earn a lower income can avoid high upfront costs by financing their solar installations. In addition to these changes, Virginia passed legislation establishing new shared solar programs, including programs for residents living in multi-family housing. The details of the new programs aren’t finalized yet, but they have the potential to further increase access to solar. With these big steps forward, Virginia to continues to pave the way for significant, local solar growth in our region. 
  • Planning for the Future: Duke Energy in South Carolina creates a long-term plan for rooftop solar
    • Net metering has encouraged the adoption of solar power in South Carolina from less than 500 rooftops in 2014 to more than 20,000 today.  Building on this success, Duke Energy recently announced an agreement with conservation groups, solar advocates, and solar industry members to evolve the state’s net metering policies while also continuing to encourage investments in rooftop solar over the next ten years.  The agreement pairs rooftop solar with smart thermostats and dynamic pricing to encourage customers to conserve electricity during peak demand while compensating more for solar production during those same times.  Customers who install rooftop solar may also be eligible to receive an upfront incentive for agreeing to a new solar plus smart thermostat program.  The program is expected to expand to solar plus storage opportunities in future years, and Duke Energy has committed to exploring a version of the program for customers earning a lower income.  The innovative new arrangement must be approved by the South Carolina Public Service Commission and is expected to be proposed in North Carolina at a later date.
  • Shift to Fair Monthly Netting: Georgia Power customers can use homegrown solar to offset energy purchases
    • The Georgia Public Service Commission directed Georgia Power to change how rooftop solar customers are credited for valuable clean energy their systems provide to the grid. Under the new monthly netting policy, customers can use 100% of their homegrown solar energy to offset their energy usage over the course of a month, making solar much more affordable than it had been under Georgia Power’s previous policy that did not allow for monthly netting. This improved policy is only available to 5,000 Georgia Power solar customers (or 32 megawatts of new rooftop capacity, whichever comes first), just a fraction of the utility’s more than 2 million customers. The Public Service Commission created a big opportunity with this policy change, but SELC will continue to monitor what the Commissioners and Georgia Power do as the program reaches capacity.

2020 Solar Brakers

  • Plummeting Pay Backs + Punitive Fees: TVA’s rooftop policies go from bad to worse
    • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a Solar Braker for the third consecutive year. Across TVA’s territory, residents who invest in rooftop solar receive rock-bottom rates for excess energy. The rates can change every month, giving homeowners no certainty about the credits they’ll receive for clean energy provided to their utility. Making matters worse, this year TVA approved a policy that allows retail utilities in their territory to put rooftop solar customers into a separate rate class. This opens the door for utilities to impose monthly fees on solar customers that are higher than existing monthly fees imposed on non-solar residential customers. We’ll be watching Tennessee to see whether local power companies take action on TVA’s new policy and start imposing discriminatory rates on rooftop solar customers next year.
  • Steep Monthly Fees: Alabama Power increases its already sky-high solar penalties
    • Alabama Power makes our list of Solar Brakers for a third time. Alabama Power, the largest utility in the state, imposes sky-high monthly fees on rooftop solar customers. This year, Alabama Power increased its already-steep fees for solar customers, making it even less affordable for Alabamians to go solar. In light of these additional roadblocks, it’s no surprise that Alabama has far fewer rooftop solar customers than any other Southern state.
  • Stopping Customers from Using Homegrown Energy: North Carolina municipal utilities force solar sales
    • In North Carolina, more than 15 city-owned electric utilities continue to impose punitive policies requiring rooftop solar owners to sell 100% of their homegrown electricity at low wholesale rates and buy back electricity at much higher retail rates. It’s simply not fair to stop residents from using the clean energy that their solar panels produce, especially at a time when consumers need more control over their electricity bills.

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