The solar dance: the amazing success story that’s one lost public dollar from collapse

Supporters of keeping costly mandates and subsidies for the solar industry in North Carolina are having to make a very strange argument. Essentially, they have to hail the solar industry as a North Carolina success story while simultaneously arguing that removing all the artificial state-mandated props would completely destroy it. Solar is the epitome of the Unsustainable Sustainable Energy Source.

It’s a bit like saying Zacchaeus was actually a very, very tall man, but in discussing his stature you absolutely must include the height of the sycamore tree. (Incidentally, prior to his famous encounter, Zacchaeus subsided off ill-gotten tax revenues.)

Consider this weekend’s big story in The News & Observer, under the heading “Possible tax credit repeal could threaten N.C. solar.” This strange rhetorical dance was on full display there. Here are quotations from the article:

NC solar is incredibly strong NC solar is incredibly weak
“explosive growth of solar power … North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for solar energy production” “six year ago [prior to SB 3]: Solar energy was so unusual that most residents had never seen a photovoltaic panel here”
“solar power has defied the expectations of even its most ardent boosters” “the industry’s success in now in jeopardy [because SB 3 is] eyed for elimination.”
“‘It’s an extraordinary success story that there’s an industry that hardly existed several years ago'” “it’s not clear the solar industry could withstand the combination of cancelling the utility subsidy and the state’s alternative energy tax credit”
“North Carolina’s solar industry has virtually weaned itself off the subsidy created in the 2007 law” “if that law is repealed, then solar energy would have no economic safety net and development could stall”
“solar energy has dominated the state’s alternative energy landscape. Catapulting solar power into the forefront was the 2007 law” “if that law is repealed … ‘our financing will dry up,'” Morrison said. ‘We’re talking about an investment community that’s really risk-averse.'”

My money is on NC solar being incredibly weak. This “extraordinary success story” apparently needs to be on the public teat longer than Pu Yi, the boy emperor of China.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Duke Energy’s passive-aggressive entry in the story. Get a load of this:

Just this week [imagine that! what a fortuitously well-timed coincidence!], Duke Energy notified the N.C. Utilities Commission that it plans to slash its 22-cent monthly charge to customers, a fee collected in utility bills to cover the cost of renewables. Instead of levying a charge to cover the cost of its renewable energy portfolio, the Charlotte-based utility is proposing a monthly bill credit of one penny a month. In part, the monthly credit would account for previously overestimated costs of projects that were not built and replaced with cheaper solar farms.

Wow, solar is “paying for itself” now! Duke is proposing to refund one whole penny per month thanks to solar. And — obviously — Duke’s proposed residential rate hike of 11.8 percent, following last year’s residential rate hike of 7.2 percent, is completely removed from those costs. Just an unfortunate coincidence, you know. ?You actually have to believe all that if you are a proponent of the Carolina Solar Success theory.

In closing: Solar in North Carolina is an amazingly strong industry! Just … don’t touch any of those public subsidies; man, that thing is very precariously perched.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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