North Carolina customers of Duke Energy can start signing up this summer for rebates that help pay for installation of solar energy panels after regulators approved the $62 million program.
Duke expects the incentives to triple the state's private solar market over the next five years. More than 6,000 of Duke's 3.2 million customers in North Carolina now have private solar systems, with a combined capacity of about 50 megawatts.
Residential customers will be eligible for a rebate of 60 cents per watt for systems of 10 kilowatts or smaller. For example, an 8 kW system would get a $4,800 rebate. Duke estimates residential systems can cost $20,000 to $30,000.
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Rebates for non-residential customers are 50 cents a watt, up to $50,000. Nonprofits such as churches and schools could get rebates of 75 cents a watt up to $75,000.
While customers can't sign up until this summer, solar arrays that were installed Jan. 1 or later are eligible for rebates.
Allison Eckley of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, which worked with Duke to develop the rebate program, said the group is disappointed that customers who have installed systems since January will have to wait months for rebates and aren't guaranteed to receive them.
"Customers have been waiting on the sidelines in North Carolina's rooftop solar market void of financing options for years now, and this is just one more delay extending that period of uncertainty," Eckley said by email. "NCSEA is optimistic about this program's ability to support this sector of the solar market; we just want to see it get off the ground in a timely manner."
A 30 percent federal tax credit to install solar arrays are also available for residential and commercial properties.
Customers can also lease systems through a third-party leasing agency that owns the system while the customer uses the power generated.
Duke has proposed two other solar programs that are awaiting regulatory approval in North Carolina. One would let customers share the output of solar arrays, while the other would help large energy customers buy solar power.
While Duke has butted heads with the state's solar industry in recent years over the pace, technical requirements and locations of new solar farms, the rebate program finds both on the same side. Duke worked for two years with the Sustainable Energy Association to develop the rebate program. Solar installers would likely benefit from lower prices to consumers.
But in South Carolina, the state House last week killed a solar bill that lawmakers said was derailed by Duke and a second utility, SCE&G. The bill would have removed a cap that limits the expansion of solar power in the state and was intended to save customers money on their power bills.
South Carolina is nearing a 2-percent limit set on solar power in the state. Unless that cap is removed, solar proponents have said the rooftop solar industry will dry up and it would be more expensive for residents to afford solar panels. Power companies spoke against the bill earlier this year, arguing it was hurting them and customers who don't use solar power.