Letter: Duke shouldn’t pocket our excess solar energy

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I am a Duke Energy user but also have a 7.68 kilowatt-hour photovoltaic system that exports electricity to the grid. For years, I have wanted to have a PV system for the environment and the coming generations, but my husband and I checked out the cost back in 2007 and could not afford it. We did purchase a solar hot water system then, which helped to reduce our electric bill. When my aunt passed away in 2019, she left me enough money that, with the reduction in the price of panels, I was able to purchase the system I have now. It went online in April of 2020 and, so far, I have not had any problem with it.

However, since I have SolarEdge on my phone, I am able to keep records of the export of my energy and the import from Duke, and I was quite dismayed when I received a bill for July-August for over $100. I’m 75, on a fixed income, and this is troubling. I have found out that Duke has a cutoff date of May 31 for each year, and then they pocket my excess energy. There is no reimbursement to North Carolina solar customers; however, South Carolina and Florida both are reimbursed monetarily for their excess. Why is the N.C. Utilities Commission penalizing North Carolina citizens?

I have done some research and have found that the N.C. Utilities Commission is actually the entity to contact about this, as it is the one that will say yes or no to the Duke request, which includes Duke’s attempt to impose an extremely disadvantageous new NEM (net energy metering) tariff upon North Carolina rooftop solar customers in NCUC Docket No. E-100 Sub 180. [The nonprofit] NC WARN cares passionately about these issues, and it is fighting to prevent this type of unfair treatment in several different legal proceedings.

I’m not asking for cash reimbursement; I just did not spend $23,000 for a PV system to “gift” Duke my electricity.

— Teri Stahara


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10 thoughts on “Letter: Duke shouldn’t pocket our excess solar energy

  1. Mike Rains

    This is complicated issue, but basically Duke (and other utilities) are trying to ensure that rooftop solar is not exempted from contributing to the cost of maintaining the grid, at least in part. That is to say while your support of solar is admirable, you are still depending on Duke to supply you with power when the sky is cloudy. And the cost of that power to Duke includes a) generation and b) the transmission network (grid) that gets it to you. So when your solar generation nets out as 0 over a years time, you would not be contributing to the cost of the grid if expecting to pay $0 for the year. As I recently read, these changes are being phased in for current rooftop solar owners.

    And while solar power like your installation does help the environment and continues to save you money with a reasonable ROI, we still can’t run the country without the grid and base load generation. That is the fallacy of this “electric everything” solution to climate change. Solar and wind exclusively just won’t work.

    • John Graves

      My experience with rooftop solar, also installed in 2020, is pretty much identical to Ms. Stahara. I find Mr. Rains’ reply to her letter to be both incomplete and essentially disingenuous.

      To begin with his point “b” (I’ll return to “a” in a minute), every month, even when my solar panels generate more electricity than I use, Duke Energy charges me a “Basic Charge” currently $14.00, plus a “Renewable Energy Rider,” currently $1.41. Those charges, plus tax apparently go toward maintaining my connection to the grid.

      As for point “a,” the months when I contribute electricity to the grid I am saving Duke the cost of generating that electricity, and not just the immediate cost of those kilowatt hours. I, and every other citizen with solar panels, relieves Duke of having to build the extra generation capacity that those panels generate, a capital cost that in the aggregate must contribute to a substantial saving for Duke. Yet, I get no credit from Duke for my contributions to the grid, instead, on the months when my panels do not generate more power than I use, Duke charges me full rate for every kilowatt hour I draw from the grid.

      In short, it is obvious to me that Duke exploits its customers by taking our “free” contributions to the grid, and then turning around and charging us both to maintain the grid and for every electron that we use in excess of what we generate. It’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” game that Duke plays with us.

      No Mr. Rains, it’s not “complicated” at all.

    • Mike

      I totally understand why a home that is on the grid should pay to support the grid.. The May 31 cutoff date claimed by the letter writer seems absurd if true or more likely false or misunderstood.

      • Peter

        Is simple. Add battery to management you energy an keep in storage any excess.
        I was a solar company in Greer SC they do micro grid. Not sorry for duke. They not have sorry for us

  2. mb

    I am fine with paying to support the grid as somebody who has solar panels on my home. What I am not fine with is Duke taking the energy I don’t use and not applying that towards the months I am a consumer rather than a producer. In other words, apply my excess production to the months I don’t meet my own needs, then I will be happy to pay the balance. This is easily achievable with technology already installed (smart meters) and should be a given. Giving me nothing for what I provide and then expecting me to pay for the grid being provided is the same as me expecting to not have to pay for the grid.

  3. Mike Rains

    Solar PV produces electricity over time in a bell shaped curve that starts mid-morning and ends late afternoon. That is, unless the sun isn’t shining. The peak demand periods for electricity center around early AM (everyone getting up and getting their day moving) and dinner time (everyone back home). Any utility has to design it’s power generation structure around meeting those peak periods which also happens to be when solar is not contributing. So in terms of solar helping to reduce any utility’s need to build power plants, that argument doesn’t really wash. Those power plants have to be there during these daily and seasonal (think 100+ degree days) peaks. Now solar generated electricity does contribute to a utility using less fuel for it’s power plants; primarily natural gas used for combustion turbines as these type plants are used when power demands change faster than larger base load plants can adjust.

    Regarding the grid (which is comprised of high voltage transmission and more expensive lower voltage distribution), costs for maintaining and operating that part of a utilities service run in the neighborhood of 40% of total cost. So for the average 1000 kWh customer paying around $170/month, approximately $70 of that is to support the grid.

    I am sorry for the reduced financial benefits regarding your rooftop solar. The initial and early rate incentives were just not realistic as we are now seeing. You are still seeing economic return, but not as much as promised.

    Unfortunately, we will be seeing more of this in the future (like perhaps electric cars?) as the entire energy picture in this country is not being carefully thought out with regards to reducing greenhouse gasses and fossil fuel depletion.

  4. David Modaff

    I can find no annual cut off for credits for energy input. My bill shows a credit every month. I also have solar edge app. The app shows the total amount of energy generated. You have to do the math between that and your bill.

    • mb

      David- this letter writer is referring to proposed changes in how this is all managed. I suggest googling something like “Duke NC solar energy changes” to get a variety of perspectives on what the proposed changes mean. In a nutshell, our inputs to energy production will be significantly lessened in value

    • Dave Erb

      You might want to pay closer attention to your bills. Under the present net metering protocol, Duke confiscates any kWh credit remaining on the customer’s ledger on May 31. Over the seven years that I’ve had my system, they’ve confiscated an average of 1100 kWh (roughly $120 worth of electricity) per year, without paying me anything for it. In the past, they would actually true it up to that specific date, even though my bill date was about a week later. After they installed my new meter, they started zeroing the kWh balance as of the actual bill date in early June. The current situation is actually more in line with the actual wording of the tariff.

      The proposed changes would replace this annual confiscation with a monthly zeroing, with payment for the surplus at the avoided cost rate. While that might sound fairer, it’s nowhere close. In my own case, that change alone would more than double my electric bill. And there are other changes proposed that would make things far worse. They’re just buried in a lot of legalistic fine print, to make sure that only utilities lawyers (and extremely committed activists) can find and understand them.

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