Over the past 5 years rooftop installation of solar panels have seen explosive growth, perhaps as much as 900 percent, over the past six years according to an article in the New York Times. The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever. “It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared. The bottom line is that more people are benefiting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction – and that’s up.”
Despite this unprecedented growth, new residential installations in 2017 has hit a snag. According to Forbes magazine, rooftop installations in the residential market could slow to as little as 9% this year, down from 16% in 2016, compared to an average growth of 63% over the three preceding years.
Several factors are cited for this decline including saturated markets like California, financial troubles for several top solar panel manufacturers, and lower energy costs primarily due to fracking. Another factor however is a well-funded highly orchestrated lobbying campaign by traditional utilities. According to Forbes magazine, utility companies are pushing back against residential solar in multiple states, citing the higher effective costs of catering to customers with residential installations. In states such as Nevada, residential and small-scale commercial solar users face higher electricity rates, along with reductions in the credits they receive for sending their unused solar generated electricity back to the grid, a practice known as “net metering.” The utilities are growing increasingly uncomfortable with homeowners generating their own energy and even making a profit by selling their unused energy back to the grid.
An outrageous example of how this scenario is playing out is occurring in North Carolina where Duke Energy used its power and influence in the state to attack the green energy efforts of a small environmental advocacy group to build solar projects for non-profits. Just this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a $60,000 fine levied against NC WARN of Durham for installing solar panels on the roof of the Faith Community Church in Greensboro, NC and selling the energy to the church. Duke Energy who has a monopoly of the energy use in the state (as well as several other southern states), asked the court to make an example of NC WARN and to heavily penalize them for illegally selling solar electricity. North Carolina is one of only four states where third party sales of energy is thought to be disallowed.
Duke’s position is particularly outrageous because NC WARN had installed the solar panels on the roof of the church as a test case to clarify state policy on third party sales that allow solar companies to sell power directly to customers from systems on those customers’ property. NC WARN and the church’s Rev. Nelson Johnson very publicly announced their reason for installing the solar panels which was also accompanied by a legal request for a declaratory ruling by the NC Utilities Commission.
NC WARN is strongly considering an appeal to the NC Supreme Court. They have no intention to give up their efforts to break Duke Energy’s longstanding monopoly on electricity sales in the state. Energy companies like Duke Energy do not own the sun. They cannot dictate who profits and who does not from taping the sun’s energy to generate electricity. What NC WARN and multiple other nonprofits and solar companies are doing is what we need to do to safely and cleanly generate electricity and create jobs while doing it. Despite the efforts of the utilities to control the sun, the future for solar continues to appear quite bright.