NC Utilities Commission weighs value of solar energy

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The debate is over how much households and companies that produce solar energy should be compensated for it. (WTVD)

Just how much should we value solar energy in North Carolina? Sure, most people want to see more of it but what's it worth - literally? That's what the NC Utilities Commission is weighing right now.

Over the next four days, the Commission will hear from energy companies (Duke Energy - the 800 pound gorilla in the room) and a coalition of six clean energy advocate groups. The debate is over how much households and companies that produce solar energy should be compensated for it.

Let's say you put a few solar panels on your roof. If you generate more power than you use, your energy company will pay you for that excess power. You're making it, they're buying it.

The same thing happens with solar farms. Take Duke Energy, for example. The energy giant has to - by law - include renewable energy in their portfolio and they meet that requirement by buying it from private companies with solar farms.

Right now, energy companies pay one rate to all providers. Duke Energy wants to change that and be able negotiate how much it will pay for solar with individual solar providers. Critics are concerned that will ultimately mean people who produce solar being paid less for it.

Environmental groups allege that Duke Energy is trying to "crush" solar in North Carolina. They're concerned that if energy companies are allowed to pay households and companies less for what their solar panels generate than they do now, it could put a chilling effect on renewable (and specifically, solar) energy in the state. Their argument: if people are offered less for solar power, then there will be less incentive to make the initial investment in solar panels.

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless challenged that notion, saying if the company is paying too much for solar, then it's customers are paying too much (as costs tend to get passed along). The suggestion, that if Duke can pay less to buy it, customers will see a windfall.

The question of whether the state needs to change the way in which it values solar energy is what the Utilities Commission will be considering over the next four days of this "evidentiary hearing."

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