Sunshine on Recent Solar Policy News

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Throughout the fall, two states have quietly made adjustments to laws and regulations affecting solar net metering customers and facilities. Meanwhile, both sides in the “Suniva solar trade war” have retained competing loud voices. How will these developments support consumers’ need for a smarter way forward when it comes to solar policy?

PACE reported this summer on North Carolina’s H.B. 589, although we primarily focused on its unwarranted 18-month moratorium on wind generation. The new law also updated the state’s solar legal framework, including allowing residential solar customers to lease panels rather than assume the often expensive, lengthy burden of owning the panels outright.

Other key provisions of H.B. 589 impact “universal” solar, including modernizing PURPA implementation. On October 11, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NUC) issued a significant order. More small projects can now qualify, but standard contract terms can be shorter. Most importantly, the NUC order seems to allow more frequent and accurate calculations of avoided costs, taking natural gas actual costs into account. 

North Carolina’s steps forward should lower costs for consumers, while making it easier for all three forms of solar generation (private, community and universal) to continue growing in the state, already a national leader in renewable generation.

Out West, Utah’s protracted solar regulatory battle entered a more peaceful phase. The Public Service Commission of Utah approved a settlement agreement that grandfathers existing private solar customers until 2035, and establishes a transitional program beginning in November 2017. Over the next three years, the state’s largest utility will present evidence to allow the PSC to examine the value of rooftop solar.

Advocates in the “Suniva” Federal Trade Commission case concerning inexpensive Chinese solar panels and impacts on U.S. manufacturing facilities ramped up outreach efforts. The “no-tariffs” side hired Sean Hannity, while the “save domestic solar” camp brought on Laura Ingraham.

Hopefully, the FTC will give more weight to last week’s announcement that yet another U.S. solar panel manufacturer is shutting down. Stion makes solar panels in Hattiesburg, MS, and will be forced to lay off 137 people in December 2017. Stion cited “intense, non-market competition from foreign solar panel manufacturers, especially those based in China and proxy countries” as the reason for its move.

Looking on the sunny side of all these developments, the ongoing work in North Carolina and Utah can aid other states’ efforts to modernize PURPA and right-size value of solar. And, as painful as the rhetorical exchange may become in the FTC case, it raises awareness of the need for a strong domestic energy manufacturing workforce and knowledge base.

As fall turns to winter, PACE will continue to report on whether the right solar signals are reaching policymakers, leading them to a smarter way forward that puts consumers first.