If you’re attuned to business developments across North Carolina, it’s not news that clean and renewable energy is becoming big business in the Old North State. The options are varied, with wind and solar being the most common. The latter has really taken off in the last few years, and the numbers behind solar energy and business investment are staggering:
- The price of going solar in the U.S. dropped by half in just five years.
- Jobs in the U.S. solar industry grew more than 20% for the third consecutive year in 2015, employing over 200,000 workers nationwide and nearly 6,000 in North Carolina.
- Solar development has been surging in North Carolina from 2008 through 2015. The 1,245 MW of solar energy currently installed in North Carolina ranks the state fourth in the country in installed solar capacity.
- The economic benefits of solar and renewable energy investment are visible across North Carolina.
Harnessing homegrown renewable energy is a viable and profitable investment, and North Carolina is on the cutting edge of industry growth. So how can we facilitate further development and expansion of the business of renewable energy? One answer lies in simply expanding third-party financing options.
Completing the Triangle
Let’s start with a definition. Third-party financing is just what it sounds like, according to Duke Energy: “Third-party sales occur when a non-utility owner of a solar facility sells electricity directly to a retail customer, whether it’s a homeowner, business or industry.” A variation of this is found in third-party leasing, in which the customer leases the solar generating equipment from a vendor rather than having to pay the full price upfront. Think about it like buying or leasing a car on a payment plan. Rather than paying a relatively large amount of money upfront, customers have the flexibility of buying the power that the system produces or otherwise spreading out the cost of solar over time. This makes the purchase more affordable for many customers. Executed properly, allowing third-party financing could fuel a dramatic expansion in both residential and business solar adoption statewide.
So What’s the Holdup?
While there’s plenty of good news about the solar energy industry in NC, there’s a piece of bad news we need to address: state law does not currently allow third-party financing options. The law states that only public utilities may sell electricity in North Carolina. And like many laws, this one made sense at the time it was passed. Back then, power came from coal, oil, natural gas, and similar fuels—with a nascent nuclear industry on the horizon. These all require careful zoning and regulation due to the noise, pollution, and potential dangers they create. Quite rightly, no one wanted unregulated traditional power plants opening in residential neighborhoods.
Solar has changed all that. Solar power is safe, clean, and easy to install on private property. It does not pollute air or water, nor does it create eyesores. And most importantly, it puts consumers in charge of their energy choices and bills like never before. Allowing third-party financing would empower both businesses and consumers to direct their money to the growing business of solar development in NC. It’s the step we need to further investment, development, and provide for the future of economic growth in our state.