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Ask and Expert for the week of December 1st, 2014

December 2, 2014 by

Here is a sample of some of the submitted Ask an Expert questions for the week of November 10th, 2014:

Please keep in mind when reviewing these responses that it is not the role of the Solar Outreach Partnership to provide legal or tax advice, and nothing herein should be construed as such. These responses are provided for educational purposes only, and should be verified by experienced legal counsel before any decisions or actions are taken.

Question: Is there any data on annual cost of damage sustained by solar installations due to natural phenomena (particularly wind)?

Answer: Thank you for contacting the Solar Outreach Partnership via the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Ask an Expert” web portal with your question on the value of damage sustained by solar energy systems annually due to natural events. Unfortunately, we do not know of a comprehensive source for this data, which has historically been difficult to collect due to the large number of privately owned systems. We have seen anecdotally however that solar energy systems are typically very robust in this regard, owing to international and local building codes, insurance requirements, and industry certification standards. Recent severe weather events provide several examples. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, there were no reports of significant damage to solar energy systems. Similarly, after Hurricane Sandy, a leading renewable energy insurer noted almost no damage claims for solar installations in New York and New Jersey. Of the systems that were damaged during the storm, the majority suffered only minor damage. The greatest impacts from the storm included damage to approximately 5% of panels on a large 1.1 million square foot rooftop array in Gloucester City, NJ and flood damage to a 3.2 megawatt solar project in Linden, NJ.

Question: The US Army has been tasked with adding solar fields as additional/alternate energy sources. Some of the locations suggested do not have an economic alternate use (capped landfills for example).  Is there a list of active solar leases available?  Or a location list so that the land owners could be contacted?

Answer: Thanks for contacting the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership through the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Ask an Expert” portal for your question regarding existing solar leases. Unfortunately, we do not know of a single comprehensive list of such sites with lease details. If you are interested in learning more about leasing land for solar, you may wish to contact individuals or organizations party to similar projects involving site leases. Some examples of these projects include:

After the closure and capping of this municipal landfill, the City entered into a site lease agreement with the newly-formed Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) to install a 1 megawatt solar facility.

In early 2012, both towns entered into lease agreements with a solar developer interested in installing solar energy systems designed to export electricity to local utilities. A representative from one town notes the lease agreement will bring in $33,000 in revenue annually.

In May of 2014, the Westfield City Council granted approval for a local solar developer to install a solar farm atop the former Twiss Street landfill. The deal is expected to bring in $7,500 per year in tax revenue to the City, along with another $75,000 in annual lease payments.

A study conducted by the Town Sustainability Committee to enter into an agreement with a solar developer to build a 500 kW solar array on a local landfill estimated lease payments at $25,000/MW. This $12,500 in annual lease revenue would total a quarter of a million dollars over the life of the proposed lease.

In leasing 7.5 acres of its old Beech Street landfill for the installation of a 2.1 MW solar facility, the Town of Marshfield will receive $50,000 in annual lease payments for each of the 20 years of the agreement.

In addition, there are a few resources that you may find helpful, though they do not exclusively deal with landfill or brownfield projects involving leases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, through the RE-Powering America’s Lands Initiative, have developed a guide on Best Practices for Siting Solar Photovoltaics on Municipal Solid Waste Landfills, the first Appendix of which contains a list of Solar PV projects installed on landfills through 2012. Through the Initiative, EPA and NREL have also prepared a set of feasibility studies for renewable energy projects on Superfund, brownfield, and former landfill or mining sites.

Question: I just moved to a new neighborhood which has an HOA and architectural guidelines that generally prohibits installation of solar panels “on the front of residences or on the slopes of roofs facing the street or facing common areas if the solar collectors can be seen by a person on the ground.”

That basically prohibits almost half of my neighbors from installing solar panels if they want to choose to make an investment in their home that increases the value of their home, lowers their energy costs, lowers their carbon footprint, and maintains good aesthetics in a beautiful neighborhood, even on the front roof slope of a home.

Do you know of any example or model HOA architectural guidelines that are more solar friendly that you can share with me?  My HOA is about to review and amend its architectural guidelines and I want to suggest some good changes.  I’d like to use some good examples instead of reinventing the wheel.

Answer: Thanks for contacting us with your question regarding solar-friendly HOA guidelines. Because some states have different laws governing an HOA’s ability to restrict the use of solar energy, it would be difficult for us to provide a good set of model guidelines without knowing what state you are in. However, through our experience in working on these issues, we have identified a number of best practices in crafting HOA solar guidelines that you may find helpful. Please note that it is not the role of our team to provide legal advice, and nothing in this email should be construed as such. The information provided herein is for educational purposes only.

  1.       Understand Your State’s Solar Access Laws.  These laws can take the form of either solar rights provisions (designed to protect the rights of property owners to install solar) or solar easements (which increase the likelihood that properties will receive sunlight and reduce the risk that a system will be shaded after installation), or both. Currently, 40 states have adopted some form of solar access law, with about two dozen of these limiting an HOA’s ability to prohibit or restrict solar energy installations. You can find out more about your state’s own solar access laws by visiting http://www.dsireusa.org/solar. A solid understanding of what an HOA can control will give you an idea of which issues may need to be addressed before you get the guidelines you desire.
  2.       Consider Waiving Design Rules that Significantly Increase Cost or Decrease Performance. Some states have set quantifiable limits on the impacts HOA restrictions can have on a solar installations before these limitations are considered “unreasonable”, and thus not allowed under the state solar access law. These limits are commonly defined by a certain level of increased installation cost or decreased system performance, or both. Some states have not set quantified limits, but instead prohibit “significant” cost increases/performance decreases. States that do not have either a quantified or “significant” limitation on HOA restrictions almost invariably prohibit “unreasonable” restrictions that are not defined by law. In the few legal disputes that exist on these matters, the courts have looked to cost increases or performance decreases to determine reasonability. Given this, it would be prudent to waive design restrictions that significantly increase cost or decrease performance. You can find an example of this language the model design guidelines we developed for North Carolina associations (see the final paragraph on the second page).
  3.       Provide Clear, Unambiguous Design Guidelines. Too often, we see design guidelines for solar that simply state something to the effect of “solar energy systems must receive architectural review committee approval before installation” without providing any guidance on which factors will be considered in approving or denying an application. This lack of transparency can create a lot of hassle for both the homeowner and the committee, as the homeowner may wish to appeal a decision or reapply for a new system, when these subsequent steps may have been avoided by simply describing the system design elements that will be considered in the HOA guidelines.
  4.       Provide a List of All Required Documents. Related to the recommendation above, providing a list of all documents that will be required for system review (e.g., application form, site plans and system drawings, photos or literature on system components, etc.) will help reduce requests for additional information and speed along the decision making process.
  5.       Post Rules and Requirements Online. All homeowners should have easy access to these guidelines so that no one is confused or in the dark about these requirements.
  6.       Allow Exceptions from Tree Removal Rules for Solar. A common motivation for HOA restrictions on solar is to promote tree preservation and growth. However, there does not necessarily have to be conflict between these two legitimate interests, provided a handful of best practices are observed. For existing developments, pruning should be considered before removal. If removal is necessary, guidelines could require or encourage the replacement of removed trees, and the HOA itself can track tree removal and replacement to ensure there is no net loss of trees in the community. In general, the guiding principle should be planting the right tree in the right place for the right reason. When selecting the “right tree”, consider how tall the tree is likely to grow and what its eventual height may mean for system shading. The “right place” can mean planting a tree on the west side of a home to provide shade in the summer, but avoiding planting trees to the south where solar access is needed. And finally, make sure you have a good understanding of the reason for the trees. For example, if the community is primarily concerned about aesthetics, consider whether these goals can be met with a shorter tree or shrub that will be less likely to affect the solar installation.

 

Ask and Expert for the week of November 10th, 2014

November 14, 2014 by

Here is a sample of some of the submitted Ask an Expert questions for the week of November 10th, 2014:

Please keep in mind when reviewing these responses that it is not the role of the Solar Outreach Partnership to provide legal or tax advice, and nothing herein should be construed as such. These responses are provided for educational purposes only, and should be verified by experienced legal counsel before any decisions or actions are taken.

Question: If a person owns a rental home in California and rents and lives in a home in another state, but plans on moving into the rental home in 2017, can they get solar now for the rental home and be eligible for the federal tax credit now?

Answer: If someone installs a solar PV system on a rental home they own prior to Dec. 31, 2016, they are eligible to receive the federal tax credit, even if this is not their primary residence and they live out-of-state. For more details on the federal tax credit, you can check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency: http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US37F&re=1&ee=1

 

Question: Are there any educational resources available for residential consumers to help them make informed decisions when installing a PV system on whether to purchase, lease, or contract for a PPA?

Answer: There are a handful of online tools available to help customers decide between the various financing options available for solar PV.

SolarOPs has published a guide on local lending for PV which describes the opportunity for local lending institutions to offer lending products for solar PV and details the differences between loans and PPAs:

See: http://solaroutreach.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Local-Lending-for-Solar-PV-Final-Feb-2014.pdf

EnergySage (a private company) has an online “instant estimate tool” that breaks down the differences between financing a PV system via cash, loan, and a PPA. EnergySage’s assumptions are not revealed on the site and therefore the DOE cannot confirm or deny the tool’s accuracy.

See: http://www.energysage.com/news/energysage-launches-instant-solar-estimates

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (a non-profit) also has an online tool to help potential PV system owners evaluate the difference between owning and leasing.

See: http://ilsr.org/ultimate-solar-calculator/

The California Center for Sustainable Energy has an information page on its website that walks through the advantages and disadvantage of owning versus financing via a PPA.

See: https://energycenter.org/california-solar-initiative/homeowners/purchase-vs-lease/ppa

Finally the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a number of publications and tools that provide more detailed and technical details surrounding the financing options and performance of solar PV depending (depending on how much of an energy geek you are).

See: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy10osti/46723.pdf; https://financere.nrel.gov/finance/content/crest-cost-energy-models; https://sam.nrel.gov/;  http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/44853.pdf;

 

Question: Can the Federal ITC be leveraged by individual participants for a community owned solar project?

Answer: The structure of community solar projects can vary significantly and so it’s difficult to give an answer in general terms without knowing the specifics of the project. Many community solar projects are organized as Special Purpose Entities, in which community members effectively create and invest in a business, which operates the solar project. In these situations, it can be difficult to realize the full value of the investment tax credit due to IRS rules on passive income, and there may be limits on the number of investors able to participate in a program due to securities regulations. There are several possible workarounds to this problem, including partnering with an investor with a larger tax appetite who will own the system for tax purposes. NREL has developed a review of some of the possible ownership arrangements for community solar, which is available at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy11osti/49930.pdf.

 

Ask and Expert for the week of November 3rd, 2014

November 4, 2014 by

Here is a sample of some of the submitted Ask an Expert questions for the week of November 3rd, 2014:

Please keep in mind when reviewing these responses that it is not the role of the Solar Outreach Partnership to provide legal or tax advice, and nothing herein should be construed as such. These responses are provided for educational purposes only, and should be verified by experienced legal counsel before any decisions or actions are taken.

Q. How does one explain why contractors all estimate solar PV installs at different levels of offsetting the customers electricity demand (i.e. we see variations between 80%-100%+ assumptions for the same property in quotes sometimes)?

A. If the contractor is using historical electrical bills from the customer in order to make the estimate than the difference is likely due to using solar PV modules of different capacity or different efficiency. If the contractor does not have access to historical electrical bill data then the estimates likely vary because the contractor is using average or median usage data for their estimate. It is always worth asking questions of a prospective installer in order to see what their assumptions are and run your own numbers for comparison.

 

Q. I am considering installing a rooftop solar PV system on my residence. My local utility offers an incentive of $0.15/kWh for five years.  This is not buying the electricity; I keep the electricity with net metering.  Will this incentive affect my 30% federal tax credit or be taxable income? If the incentives are taxable, would I be able to take depreciation on my investment?

A. Thanks for your questions. If I understand you correctly, you are asking if 1) whether the utility incentive you would receive considered taxable income, 2) whether the incentive will affect your federal investment tax credit, and 3) whether you can benefit from accelerated depreciation on your investment.

Here are my answers to those three – if I missed a question in there, please let me know.

1. Yes, your utility incentive is considered taxable income, because it’s an increase in your adjusted gross income (AGI). Thus, you will have to pay taxes on it.

2. No, your incentive will not affect your investment tax credit, because the incentive itself is not a tax credit. The only time when a tax credit can be reduced is when you apply a state tax credit to the project as well, and since the state tax credit is considered a form of income for your federal taxes, the amount you can claim on your federal taxes is thus reduced.

3. No. The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation (also known as “accelerated depreciation” only applies to business energy property, and thus is only applicable to one’s corporate tax burden. Thus, you cannot take depreciation on the investment. On the other hand, it is possible you might benefit from the solar installer’s taking of accelerated depreciation if the system is third-party owned, but you will not benefit from it yourself unless it is considered the property of a business, and thus pays federal corporate taxes.

 

Q. Where can I go to find out if a particular company is reputable?

A. One of the first steps in selecting a reputable solar installer is to ask them a series of questions including (from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center):

  • Can you provide references from previous customers with similar systems?
  • How many similar systems have you installed?
  • When would you be able to perform the work?
  • How long will the project take?
  • Please describe the warranty that you provide on the system.
  • Have you worked with local building officials and utility representatives when installing similar systems in the past?
  • Do you have a local licensed electrician as part of the project team?
  • Will you hire subcontractors to complete portions of the project? What firms will you hire and what will they do?
  • What kind of training will you provide me with so that I can better operate and maintain my system?
  • Do you offer solar leasing or a third-party ownership option?
  • Will you take of the paper work for any rebates, or incentives (such as renewable energy certificates)?

Publicly traded solar installers will have to disclose various pieces of information for their investors and in the form of SEC filings. This information will be available on those company’s websites.

Keeping Up with the Jones and Solar Power

October 29, 2014 by

Competition is a staple of our society.  We see what our neighbors have, and instinctively compare with what we have.  A new commentary by Chris Mooney of The Washington Post found that this competitive spirit has been key to the spread of solar power throughout communities.  When one neighbor decides to install solar, other neighborhood residents begin to consider it as a possible option.  Read more here.

Solar Roadways Are Paving the Way of the Future

August 15, 2014 by

A few months ago, an Indiegogo online fundraising campaign called Solar Roadways caught the attention of millions of Americans when they exceeded their fundraising goals by a sizable amount. Solar Roadways’ goal was to raise 1 million dollars, but actually brought in more than 2.2 million dollars. The idea of building solar roadways to replace traditional asphalt roads seems like a concept out of The Jetsons, but Solar Roadways, Inc. founder Scott Brusaw showed the U.S. and the world just how it can be done with his viral Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways YouTube video. Brusaw’s idea is very complex with many factors at play, but it has the potential to change the way we think about energy sources and roads.

Graphic Design of Solar Roadway Prototype

Graphic Design of Solar Roadway Prototype

Solar Roadways, Inc. (SRI) began in 2009 when they received a contract from the Federal Highway Administration (FTA) to break ground on a prototype of the road. Since then the federal government has invested $850,000 in the concept.[1] Beginning as a prototype in Sandpoint, Idaho, Brusaw drew up plans to replace parking lots, residential roads, highways, tarmacs, playgrounds, and sidewalks throughout the U.S. with this technology. If successful, this plan will improve telecommunication systems, road conditions, and accident preventions in communities across the U.S.

In order to compete with the growing technology of communities, solar roadways were adapted as smart systems. They have the ability to hold power, internet, and fiber optic cables in the cable corridor of the road, cutting the risk of fallen wires and power outages while increasing energy security. These roads are designed to charge electrical vehicles in convenient places like fast food parking lots or even while driving, using energy generated by the sun instead of fossil fuels.

Despite the concerns for limited traction and slippery roads, solar roadways will actually improve road conditions affected by foul weather. Roads are made of a bomb-resistant glass and are equipped to handle up to 250,000 lbs. of cargo. As many cities witnessed last winter, ice and snow buildup on highways can cause massive traffic jams and accidents. In addition, the cleaning process for snow and ice removal can be a time consuming and costly procedure. To mitigate this problem, solar roadways are equipped with heating fixtures inside each solar unit that keep the surface a few degrees above freezing to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. By establishing these solar roadways, communities could avoid life threatening situations and be able to use tax dollars, usually spent on salt trucks, to improve other areas of the community.

Another unique feature of solar roadways are the LED lights imbedded in the surface that act as warning signs, increasing safety for cars at night. Additionally, solar roadway units are equipped with pressure sensors that determine if a large object – like a fallen tree, boulder, or animal – is on the road and can alert upcoming vehicles. By improving accident rates in an area, solar roadways will help communities improve driving conditions and overall livability.

If the idea of solar roadways comes to fruition, the results could be impressive. There would be increased job creation in the construction industry, reduced pollution and reliance on fossil fuels, and potentially safer, smarter roadways. SRI is moving forward with the campaign money it raised to bring solar roadways to a town near you. To that end, there are questions that need to be addressed. How much will solar roadways cost? How reliable will they be? For more on Solar Roadways, Inc. click HERE.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevemeyer/2014/06/18/solar-freakin-roadways-and-the-wisdom-of-small-wins/

Standby and Fixed Cost Charges: What’s the Solar Soft Cost Impact of Attempts to Limit Net Energy Metering for Solar PV?

By Jim Kennerly, N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center and Kathryn Wright, Meister Consultants Group

The U.S. solar market has experienced rapid growth in recent years, and is expected to expand by 25% in 2014. However, as the rooftop solar PV market has expanded, adoption of these distributed energy technologies has begun to challenge the traditional revenue and business models of utilities. This has led many utilities to apply standby and fixed cost charges specific to solar PV for customers choosing to go solar through a billing practice called net energy metering (NEM) in an attempt to recover their costs.

While solar PV’s impact on utilities has been a hot topic for the past year, little attention has been paid to the potentially damaging risks posed by these solar PV-specific rate designs (often informally referred to as solar “fees” or “taxes”) upon the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative’s efforts to reduce the non-hardware “soft” costs of going solar. In fact, applying these rate designs to solar PV customers could actually lead to an unfortunate situation – one in which standby and fixed cost charges make it more difficult for solar PV to reach the point at which it would need no incentives to provide value to customers.

In our report, Rethinking Standby and Fixed Cost Charges: Regulatory and Rate Design Pathways to Deeper Solar Cost Reductions, we outline a series of approaches that utilities and their regulators can adopt that provide a “softer path” to rate design that does not delay solar grid parity. Currently, discussions around net-metering centered around the value of solar concept, while ignoring the contributions of other factors, such as declining energy usage across most utilities’ customer base, on utility fixed-cost recovery and financial stability.

Our report discusses and recommends an integrated approach, which several forward-thinking utilities and regulators are beginning to adopt to combat this systemic problem without imposing disproportionate burdens on solar DG, and SunShot Initiative  soft costs reduction efforts. This integrated approach includes:

  • Revenue decoupling, which allows utilities to ensure recovery of their costs, meet investors’ expectations, and encourage customers to save energy;
  • A “minimum monthly contribution”, which allows utility to recover a critical degree of revenue from customers who are zero net energy users (often referred to as “prosumers”); and
  • Mandatory time-differentiated (also known as time-of-use) pricing, which provides both solar and non-solar customers with transparent utility cost information (and minimizes a significant cost shift benefitting non-solar customers);

Our report also recommends other emerging “win-win” approaches for utilities and solar PV, including value of solar tariffs (VOSTs), identifying and encouraging siting of solar PV in areas that maximize cost savings for utilities and other customers, community shared solar and virtual net metering, and developing utility shareholder incentives for deploying solar PV.

It appears that solar PV markets now have sufficient momentum to render the question of “will solar become commonplace?” less relevant than the question of how quickly it will happen, and what impact will higher installations rates have on utilities and their business models. Overall, we believe the balanced approach we recommend will protect utilities and their customers and allow critical solar PV soft cost reductions enabled by the SunShot Initiative to continue unabated.

Universities Are Going Green

July 23, 2014 by
Solar Farm located in Clay County, North Carolina

Solar Farm located in Clay County, North Carolina

With colleges and universities constantly expanding and developing, it is a wonder that this academic world hasn’t adopted solar energy sooner. The cost efficiency and environmental benefits provided by solar are now attracting universities to add solar panels to their campuses, or buy solar power from solar farms. Most universities have a large footprint, spending tens of thousands or even millions of dollars to power their campus annually. The cost savings associated with solar allows universities to repurpose their savings to better use within the school. Additionally, as universities are often community leaders, their investment in solar further establishes their role in community development.

Last month, American University and George Washington University signed a 20-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to purchase over half their power from a solar farm in North Carolina. The project, the Capital Partners Solar Project, will feature 243,000 solar panels that produce 123 million Kwh of electricity each year – that’s enough energy to power 8,000 homes. This project is the largest non-utility solar PV power purchase in the nation. In addition to its economic impact, Duke Energy estimates that this project will eliminate approx. 60,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, through the clean power generated by the farms.

American University and George Washington University currently spend an annual average of $13 million and $5 million to power their schools. Both universities hope that investing in solar farms will substantially reduce their future energy costs.

From coast to coast, solar energy has captivated the nation’s universities with its cost efficiency and environmental conservation abilities. With the help of Duke Energy’s solar power farms, American University and George Washington University are acting as a model for other institutions to follow, leading the country to a bright and solar powered tomorrow.

Looking for Solar-Supportive Plans and Development Regulations? Search Here

July 18, 2014 by

SolarDataSearch

Do you know if your community’s comprehensive plan says anything about solar energy use? What about its zoning code? Local plans and development regulations are among the most important tools cities and counties can use to create a supportive local policy environment for solar development. If your community hasn’t adopted explicit policies or regulations that enable and encourage solar energy use, you may be curious about how other localities have integrated solar-supportive language into specific documents. And if your community has taken these steps, you may be curious how your policies and regulations stack up against potential peer communities.

When my organization, the American Planning Association (APA), began methodically tracking planning and zoning tools that explicitly address solar energy use in 2011, there was no central repository for this type of information. So, we decided to make one. Now, thanks to APA’s new Solar Planning & Zoning Data Search tool, anyone can view, sort, and search our collective efforts to catalog examples of planning-related documents from communities across the country.

Currently, this search tool contains links to resources from more than 400 different communities. Users can search all records by keyword or use various filters to limit results by geographic region, type of place, population density of place, type of resource, and type of solar-supportive practice these resources address.

Innovative Solar PV Financing Methods: Invest In Solar PV through Energy Services Performance Contracting

By Jim Kennerly and Autumn Proudlove, North Carolina Solar Center

PV RAY

Knoxville Convention Center Solar PV Array (Photo Credit: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 790)

Local governments across the country are often both some of the largest employers and largest users of electricity in their areas. When utility costs go up, as they have in recent years, local governments are forced to spend more on energy and less on providing essential services, like police, fire, and water and wastewater treatment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of late 2013, local governments have shed over 500,000 jobs since 2009.[1] A major contributor to this is rising energy costs, coupled with the economic downturn. As a result, many local governments are turning to investments in solar PV and energy efficiency to cut their energy costs, retain jobs, and more cost-effectively maintain critical infrastructure.

An excellent way for local governments to invest in solar and save money on their often large utility bills is to purchase solar through an energy services performance contract. Performance contracts are a common type of public-private partnership between here an energy services company and a local government that result in significant guaranteed energy and cost savings. This week, the North Carolina Solar Center at NC State University and the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership released Integrating Solar PV into Energy Services Performance Contracts: Options for Local Governments Nationwide (HERE), a resource for local governments interested in both reducing their energy costs and providing a boost to local economic development.  The guide contains several helpful resources, including:

  • A comprehensive list of the economic, operational, resilience, and sustainability-related benefits of entering into a performance contract and using that contract to invest in solar PV;
  • Ways that local governments can use performance contracts to finance the purchase of a commercial-scale rooftop PV system with limited to no upfront cost;
  • Information about the experience of the cities of Cincinnati, OH and Knoxville, TN, two large energy users that used performance contracts as a way to invest in solar and reduce their utility bills; and
  • A series of suggested best practices for local governments to follow in using a performance contract to invest in solar and save on their utility bills.

While performance contracting has long been a common tool for helping large energy users cut their costs, recent declines in the cost of solar PV have allowed it to become a cost-effective and potentially significant energy conservation measure that “pays back” more quickly than ever before. Therefore, this fact sheet is an important piece of the puzzle for local governments looking to save energy, retain jobs and save taxpayer money for mission-critical projects and services.


[1] Seasonally-Adjusted Employment, Hours and Earnings data for Local Government, Table B-1 of the Current Employment Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor. Accessible at: http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab1.htm

Customer Guides to Going Solar for Duke Energy Customers in North Carolina

By Jim Kennerly and Autumn Proudlove

Go Solar Guide

A major goal of the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership and the North Carolina Solar Center is to reduce the non-hardware “soft” costs of solar PV by educating homeowners and businesses customers about the significant monthly savings that solar PV can provide them.

Over the past several years, North Carolina has emerged as one of the nationwide leaders in solar energy development. In 2013, it emerged as the 2nd largest market for solar PV in the United States. However, most of its solar success has come from installing large, utility-scale ground-mounted solar arrays in rural areas, not from rooftop solar installed on-site by North Carolina homeowners and businesses.

As part of a SolarOPs-funded technical assistance and outreach effort to help our fellow North Carolinians cut their energy costs with innovative technology, the North Carolina Solar Center has released two Residential Customer’s Guides to Going Solar for residential customers of both Duke Energy Carolinas (residents of Charlotte, NC, Durham, NC and the cities of the Piedmont Triad) and Duke Energy Progress (residents of Raleigh, NC, Wilmington, NC and Asheville, NC).

These guides provide a wealth of useful information for homeowners interested in investing in solar PV for their home in these cities, including:

  • How large a solar PV system has to be to offset portions of their utility bill;
  • How solar PV helps them save money (through on-site use, as well as selling energy back to Duke Energy through a utility billing practice known as net energy metering);
  • The key federal, state and local policies, incentives and financing options available for reducing the overall cost of going solar in North Carolina and the upfront cost of purchasing the system, including the 35% North Carolina state tax credit expiring at the end of 2015; and
  • The advantages, disadvantages, and expected future monthly savings and 25-year inflation-adjusted returns on investment associated with various utility rate options for solar PV customers.

Overall, the guides show that, with an average-sized residential system, customers of Duke Energy in North Carolina can save up to an average of $55/ month on their utility bill with a system that can cost as little as $4,000 after incentives. These guides show that solar energy has much to offer North Carolina homeowners, and it is more affordable than ever.

If you are interested in having a custom-designed “guide to going solar” like these created for customers in your region, or in any other SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership technical assistance services, please do not hesitate to email solar-usa@iclei.org and declare your interest.