NC Now Second In Solar; Smart Policies Can Keep It That Way

North Carolina just got some pretty excellent news about solar power in the last week: We Tar Heels now have more solar power installed than any other state, save blindingly bright California. Got that? Second in the nation. Only 10 years ago, we were a paltry 19th in installed solar power. Now, we’re beating out states with incredible solar resources, like Arizona, and states with outstanding solar policies, like Massachusetts. Our Southeast, once a laggard in the solar race, is the region in the country with the second-largest solar potential—the second-most sun, if you will. For North Carolina, the right choice of policies has translated that potential into an incredible surge to the top of the national rankings for solar energy deployment.  But keeping and improving upon those policies is the only way the state will maintain its leadership position. 

Smart policies have helped North Carolina become the state with the second-most solar installed in the nation. By continuing and expanding those policies, the state can continue this important growth.

North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association

Unfortunately, the recent solar news here in the Old North State isn’t all fantastic. By letting an important state solar tax credit expire at the end of last year, and by continually threatening solar and the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), North Carolina has become a less attractive state in which to develop this incredible clean-energy resource. Though almost $1.7 billion was invested in solar here in 2015—investments that helped build out more than 900 megawatts of electric capacity and employ almost 6,000 people in the growing industry—2016’s investment will likely drop to $1 billion or less, according to the Solar Market Insight report issued last week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, the major solar trade group.

Things don’t have to be that way. North Carolina can continue to break solar records and serve as an inspiration to our neighbors in the sunny Southeast—Florida, are you listening?—if we stop trying to derail what is undoubtedly an economic, environmental, and public health miracle and start thinking about what works best for North Carolina.

Let’s dwell for a moment, though, on all of the positives: in Q2 2016, North Carolina was one of an ever-increasing number of states installing solar, helping this clean power technology account for a full 26 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the United States in the first half of this year. Here in North Carolina, we added about 144 megawatts of the stuff, enough to power more than 15,000 homes. All told, the state’s now home to 2,295 megawatts of solar—enough to juice up almost a quarter of a million North Carolina homes. We’ve got more than 210 solar businesses. And prices for solar here and around the country continue to nosedive quarter after quarter and year after year. In fact, nationally, they dropped by 7.5 percent in Q2 alone.

It’s also worth noting that the clean energy industry was the state’s fastest-growing last year, for the second year in a row. And, if we want that kind of continued success we should build on the smart solar policies that have promoted clean energy here and around the country. To begin with, we should be considering how to strengthen the REPS. It requires investor-owned utilities to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from sources like solar, wind power, and energy efficiency by 2021 and has been a prime driver of clean energy growth in our state. (The efficiency programs that contribute to the REPS already save us about half a cent per kilowatt hour on our electric bills, with those savings expected to increase over time.)

Ninety percent of North Carolina’s solar deployment is utility-scale—big solar arrays that help increase rural development, keep families on their farms, and increase the tax base in rural communities. That means there’s a great opportunity here for residential and commercial solar, the kind that’s plentiful in many states. We can grow this market, and let homeowners and businesses get solar with no money down, by allowing third-party ownership of solar arrays on homes, businesses, non-profit organizations, and houses of worship, much as at least 26 states do.

Q2 brought great solar news to North Carolina and revealed once again how there are fantastic opportunities for renewable energy across the Southeast. Let’s keep that growth going, with smart policies and leadership that knows an environmental, economic, and public health miracle when they see it.

About the Authors

Luis Martinez

Director, Southeast Energy, Climate & Clean Energy Program
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