I’ve long noticed two prongs of the solar lobby‘s message to legislators and the media — two messages that I think are completely at odds with one another:

  1. Solar is a powerhouse industry in North Carolina. Second in the nation in solar!
  2. Solar cannot make it as an industry on its own. Not without extensive government support!

Dan Way’s report for Carolina Journal Online draws the line between the first prong and the second. It’s an important read for anyone wanting to understand what’s really driving the solar business here.

Read it all; here are a few (highlighted) excerpts to pique your interest:

In the complicated, jargon-filled world of renewable energy, qualifying facilities are money. They’re electric power plants fueled by renewables (including solar and wind) that generate 80 megawatts or less. The federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act [PURPA] forces public utilities to buy power from those [solar and wind] facilities. …

The “favorable terms” described by one senior Duke Energy official include long-term contracts that lock in payments for renewable producers at high rates even as the cost of their energy falls. Those have translated into North Carolina’s high rates of “avoided costs” — the money a utility saves from not having to build new plants or purchase power elsewhere because it buys renewable energy from qualifying facilities.

Even though the PURPA law gives states a lot of flexibility in how they regulate qualifying facilities, North Carolina has given renewable power producers a bargain relative to other states, Duke Energy vice president for policy Kendal Bowman told Collins’ committee. … As an example, North Carolina law requires 15-year, guaranteed, fixed-term rates to qualifying facilities. …

Compared to other Southeastern states, North Carolina “has some of highest avoided cost rates,” Bowman said. Combined with the long-term fixed contracts, “That has driven North Carolina to have about 60 percent of all the QF contracts in the nation.”

The good deal North Carolina has given the renewable industry, rather than our abundant sunshine, has led to its growth.

Read on, Lizzy!