Originally published here on June 7, 2017

The N.C. House passed a bill Wednesday that establishes competitive bids for new solar construction in the state and encourages rooftop solar development, sending it on to the Senate for action.

The bill passed its three readings easily and in short order after the House convened at 2 p.m. The final vote was 108 in favor and just 11 against.

It could face a more difficult time in the Senate, which is likely to take the bill up next week. But Allison Eckley of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association says the House vote is encouraging and could help build momentum in the upper chamber.

“We are very pleased with the vote in the House,” she says. “We are hoping that there will be final action on the bill sometime next week.”

Comprehensive approach

She notes the broad support in the House comes, in part, from its starting there. Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, and Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, put the final version together late last week. And it enjoyed strong support from Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, who spoke for it on the House floor.

Eckley says supporters still have more work to do in the Senate. She says the bill takes a comprehensive approach to clean energy issues and supporters must help some senators on what is in it and why.

The bill changes current state regulations that mandate how the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act — adopted in 1974 to encourage competition in electricity production — is enforced.

Solar developers have used the state’s intentionally generous provisions to develop utility scale solar projects at a rapid pace in the state in the last few years. With the industry well established, the new legislation cuts back on those initial provisions and sets up a system of competitive bids for new solar construction.

Rooftop solar

Under those policies, North Carolina rose to second place, behind only California, for the amount of solar capacity on its electric grid.

The law is designed to give utilities more say in where and when projects will be built, while ensuring the significant amounts of new solar capacity are built in the coming years.

Duke Energy, which had asked for many of the changes in the bill, will issue requests annually for bids to build more solar projects. The bidding will be administered by independent third party, the law says. And the utility must request 2,660 megawatts of new capacity over the 42 months following establishment of the bid procedure.

The bill also requires Duke to offer rebates to customers who install rooftop solar on their homes and businesses. It, for the first time, allows installers to lease projects to homeowners so that projects can be built for little or no money upfront. And it also establishes guidelines for community solar projects where five or more customers can subscribe to buy fixed amounts of solar power from a common solar source.

The legislation has been endorsed by Gov. Roy Cooper.