Why Do Homeowners Go Solar? Going Green in North Carolina

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Homeowner Profiles: A PV Solar Report Exclusive Series

 

 

In this series, we profile homeowners around the country who have gone solar. We interview a range of homeowners to gain insights about their motivations for going solar, what factors they weighed in their decision, and how they went about choosing a solar provider.


If you know homeowners who have gone solar and would like to share their experience, email us at admin@pvsolarreport.com.

David Norman is an executive coach who made an environmentally conscientious decision to reduce his dependence on electric energy generated from burning fossil fuels.

Two years ago, David and his wife discussed the idea of putting a solar PV system on their home. He considers himself to be an early adopter of the technology and a proponent of making decisions with a global perspective in mind. Since investing in renewable energy felt like the right thing to do environmentally, the decision to go solar was quick.

 

Because David owns a corporation that is operated from his home, he qualified for the federal 1603 grant (in 2011) that reimbursed businesses for specific types of energy installations. His corporate status also allowed him to depreciate the panels as a business asset. And because he was also able to participate in NC Green Power’s carbon offset buying program, his decision to buy a solar PV system was financially justified as well.

 

Choosing the right installer was simple. David has worked as a management consultant for over four decades. He understands why some businesses thrive and others fail. One business he’d developed faith in was Argand Energy, an installer based in Chapel Hill, NC. David had been working with Argand’s CEO and founder, Erik Lensch, for years as an executive coach and knew he could trust Argand’s leadership and integrity. With that confidence, David did not need to shop around for competitive installers.

 

After discussing his needs with Argand Energy, they decided to install a 4.2 kW system that is made up of seventeen 250W panels (Siliken SLK60P6L) with just as many Enphase microinverters. The Enphase software lets David track his total energy generation and corresponding offsets. The system provides 100% of his energy needs in the summer and about a quarter of his electrical usage averaged throughout the year. To date, his PV panels have produced 9.4 megawatt-hours and prevented 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of planting 166 trees.

 

The overall experience with Argand went well from the initial consultation to the engineering designs and throughout the final installation. However, problems surfaced later as David had to interact with the local utility, Duke Energy. The initial plans for the PV installation were approved by Duke Energy and Mecklenburg County in February of 2012, but a month later the type of one of the electrical boxes was denied by a representative of the utility. The mounting issue was eventually resolved, but during the discussions David was surprised to hear the utility’s representative say, “Duke Energy doesn’t like solar because it creates spikes in the grid.” That statement set the tone for the remainder of his experience dealing with the largest electric utility in the nation.

 

Once the system was given final approval to go live, David noticed another peculiarity with how Duke Energy handles its solar customers. He was being charged two separate monthly fees: a Facility charge and an Administrative charge, totaling $16.74. On Earth Day 2012 he wrote a letter to Jim Rogers, Duke’s CEO at the time, asking why an ostensibly green company that is consistently on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index would charge so much to a customer with a PV system. Duke Energy explained that the fees are a requirement of the Public Utilities Commission.

 

A recent op-ed by the director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy raised a similar question regarding Duke Energy’s leadership in the renewable energy space.

 

Duke Energy’s public relations department was contacted for this article but did not return calls for further comment.

 

Overall, David feels he made the right decision from both global and personal perspectives. Even though the fees reduce his PV generated income by 25%, the financial investment still has a payback greater than what banks pay today. However, he thinks Duke Energy is myopic in its decision making.

 

“Where I see organizations get into trouble, they often hang on to a core business despite a change in the marketplace … Duke Energy is missing a great opportunity to not only increase the value of Duke for its shareholders, but also to help the world at large,” David offered. With Duke’s recent request to cut the rate it pays residential customers for solar energy by half, he expects a “PR mess, because this smacks of the 300-pound gorilla throwing its weight around. Until Duke recognizes the world is changing, they are at risk.”

 

David may not be alone in this line of thinking. In an interview last month, Jim Rogers, the retired Duke CEO to whom David wrote the concerned letter, agreed that Duke’s approach to blocking residential PV installations is short-sighted. When asked what he would do if he could start his career over, Rogers said his “goal would be to take customers away from utilities as fast as [he] could, because … they’re vulnerable. Regulations will not be changed fast enough to protect them. The business model will not be changed fast enough.”

 

With solar PV prices continuing to drop and more homeowners deciding to install solar systems for financial reasons, utilities will have to find ways to deal with the renewable energy surge that makes their current business model increasingly obsolete. This is clearly an exciting time to be watching the energy industry. Many changes are on the horizon.

 

In the meantime, David Norman is happy just to watch how each day his solar panels are doing their part to reduce everyone’s reliance on polluting sources of electricity.