Progress, Duke Energy want lower solar-energy payments, News&Observer reports

From the Raleigh News&Observer

“Progress, Duke want to slash payments for green energy,” by John Morawski

At a time that Progress Energy is seeking a 14 percent rate increase for residential customers in North Carolina, the Raleigh power company wants to slash payments as much as 29 percent for electricity it buys from solar generators and other renewables producers.

If approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission, the request would reduce rates the electric utility pays for green energy to levels not seen since 1984, when there was no green energy to speak of in North Carolina.

The power company’s request is tied to the plummeting cost of natural gas, which is lowering the market price of electricity nationwide. Progress contends that it is now overpaying for the green energy it has to buy under state law, and passing on those inflated costs to its customers, who ultimately bear the financial burden in their monthly bills. …

The move to cut rates comes at a crucial time for solar power in the state as the industry has nearly weaned itself off a key subsidy.

Only a few years ago, power companies paid solar generators a premium of about 12 cents for every kilowatt hour of power, roughly twice as much in subsidy support as the solar producers made from selling electricity. Today, solar producers typically receive less than 1 cent a kilowatt hour as a subsidy.

The shrinking subsidy – known as a “renewable energy certificate” – had solar advocates congratulating themselves for creating a self-sustaining industry in relatively short order. With the subsidy expected to go away in the near future, North Carolina’s solar industry is operating on razor-thin margins and could come to a standstill if Progress significantly cuts payments for electricity, advocates warn.

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