Solar In The Southeast, Fall Update

SACE Staffer Alissa Jean Schafer contributed to this post.

When it comes to deploying solar power, the Southeastern United States has been a mixed bag for quite some time. Thanks to weak or non-existent policies, inconsistent incentives, and a myriad of other excuses, the Southeast, as a whole, has yet to live up to its high solar potential. The last several months have brought some interesting developments though, some good and some challenging. Here’s a quick overview of the key takeaways, from North to South.

Tennessee: “Middle of the pack” is a good way to describe this state, which has only about 140 MW of solar currently installed for its 7 million residents, but the potential for much more. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has about 200 MW of additional solar in the “development pipeline” and seems to be actively looking into the best way to increase its renewable resources even more, including solar. In May of 2016, TVA issued a Request for Information to get a read on opportunities for adding renewables to its portfolio and was blown away by offered responses totaling over 11,000 MW, about 40% coming from solar. The idea is that these projects would be operational by December 2020. While TVA has not committed to contract for any of these projects and it’s unlikely that the agency will get anywhere near the 11,000 MW mark by the end of 2020, its Request for Information is an optimistic sign and many are watching to see if and how projects are implemented. TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan recommends procuring only up to 800 MW of solar by 2023, but demand for renewable energy and plummeting prices may catalyze the agency to beat that conservative number.

North Carolina: In the news for being second nationwide for solar power on the grid, North Carolina continued its streak of being a “solar star” in the Southeast. The state added 115 MW of solar power to the grid during the second quarter of 2016 alone, bringing its total to 1.9 GW of installed solar for its 10 million residents. Due in part to North Carolina’s ban on third-party power sales, the majority of this solar is utility scale. Some concerns have been raised over a projected slowing of this momentum, due to “grid logistics,” declining project economics, and a perceived lack of land availability near substations, where it makes most sense for large solar farms to be sited. Duke recently set a new testing requirement for utility scale projects that effectively sets an arbitrary and unreasonable limit on the amount of solar capacity that can be delivered to each substation.  And certain substation upgrade tax breaks are set to expire soon, which may negatively impact the economics of solar projects. There is also some anti-solar legislation currently pending that would add more permitting hurdles and further slow the solar development that we have seen over the last couple of years.

South Carolina: While the Palmetto State has never been considered a solar leader, hopes are high that this could change! Currently all the way down in 28th place for installed solar capacity, South Carolina is on track to install 300 MW for its 5 million residents by 2020 based on deals already in the works. And the Solar Energy Industries Association is projecting installations as high as 972 MW by 2021. The uptick in South Carolina solar is largely due to a variety of solar programs being offered through the utility companies. A 2015 settlement from South Carolina Gas & Electric calls for a $37 million dollar program designed to place 84.5 MW of solar on the grid, 30 MW of it utility scale. Duke Energy Progress has a plan to add 39 MW of solar through a combination of residential, commercial, and utility scale. Other programs include a new “Shared Solar” program from Duke Energy Progress, designed specifically for residents who are renters and don’t own their roof.

Georgia: Georgia is working hard to be another “solar star” of the Southeast. With over 600 MW already installed serving its 10 million residents, Georgia is forecasting that it will be over the 1 GW mark by 2017! The Georgia Power Company 2016 IRP is expected to result in an additional 1600 MW of renewable energy by 2021, though not all of it will be solar. The IRP includes a new program called the Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI), which calls for the procurement of 1200 MW of renewables, comprised of 150 MW of distributed generation and 1050 MW of utility scale generation. REDI projects can include solar, wind (capped at 300 MW), and biomass resources. The split between distributed generation and utility scale generation is interesting to see, as rooftop solar has lagged behind in Georgia. Georgia is lucky to be home to Green Power EMC, a Georgia electric cooperative that focuses solely on procuring renewable energy for member cooperatives. Green Power EMC has 240 MW of solar developed or in development and received the 2016 SEPA Electric Cooperative of the Year Award at Solar Power International.

Florida: The Sunshine state took a major step towards having the ability to live up to it’s license plate moniker in August during Florida’s primary election, with a huge victory on Amendment 4. Supported by a vast grassroots coalition of over 200 organizations, businesses, elected officials, and government bodies, this proposal to exempt solar from tangible personal property taxes and provide a real estate property tax exemption for commercial solar installations passed by a wide margin. The stakes are even higher for Florida going into the November general election, which features anti-solar, utility-backed Amendment 1. Billed by the utilities and their special interests as pro-solar, Amendment 1 is actually designed to deceive voters, protect the power companies’ monopoly control over the state’s electric system, and set the stage for discriminatory fees and penalties to be levied on solar customers. Net metering continues to be on the chopping block, and the fear is that Amendment 1 would be used as ammunition to weaken or abolish the existing net metering policies in the state, based on comments filed before the Public Service Commission in the last year.  Stay tuned for news on the fate of Amendment 1 after November 8!

In general, Florida continues its lackluster solar performance, with less than 1% of its energy coming from solar, despite having one of the highest potentials in the entire country.  While the utilities tend to make a big PR fuss over their current small solar projects and projected solar installations in the coming years, the fact remains that the state is woefully behind where it could be with only 312 MW installed. According to the big utilities’ 2016 Ten Year Site Plans, they only anticipate collectively adding an additional 1200 MW through 2026 for the state’s 20 million residents, although if the rooftop market takes off, that number could double!

Southeast: In general, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about the Southeast in the coming months and years, despite obstacles and potential challenges ahead. There have been positive developments in many key markets. Perhaps one of the most positive indicators comes from GTM Research, which forecasts that in the next five years the Southeast as a whole will drive the most voluntarily procured utility scale solar! Regardless, there is reason to both keep hopes high and keep advocacy and policy work on high alert to ensure that we continue to move in a good direction.

 

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