One might expect California to be the leader in solar power in the US and they’d be right. But the state that’s in second place—particularly in terms of third-party owned solar might be a surprise. Rather than a state like Nevada or Arizona in the sunny southwest, it’s North Carolina, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Of the state’s 1,271 MW utility-scale solar power installed by the end of 2015, 92 percent or 1,173 megawatts is the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA)-qualifying solar power. Under the act utilities are required to purchase power generated by qualifying facilities at the cost a utility would incur if it provided the energy to customers through its own new power plants or from nonqualifying facilities. It’s the type of electricity that Apple was recently qualified to begin offering, for instance.
“North Carolina surpassed states with more favorable solar power resources to become the state with the second-highest amount of installed utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity owned by independent power producers in 2015, behind only California,” EIA’s Manussawee Sukunta explained. Other than that, Sukunta said, growth of North Carolina’s solar resoureces was encouraged by the renewable portfolio standard and the state’s renewable energy tax credit.
While North Carolina is a leader in this type of renewable energy other states also have used PURPA to increase the amount of renewables in their states. Two other standouts are New York and Idaho, which have used PURPA to expand solar and other forms of renewable energy.
Despite PURPA being a federal mandate states themselves set how they implement it. “For North Carolina, utilities are required to establish up to 15-year fixed-avoided cost contracts for eligible solar PV qualifying facilities (QF) with a contract capacity of up to 5 MW,” Sukunta said.
“The availability of long-term contracts helps solar PV developers secure project financing. North Carolina's approach contrasts with the approaches of other states such as Arizona or Nevada, where the utilities offer contracts with shorter contract terms or with lower capacity thresholds. Furthermore, the recent build-out of PV in North Carolina indicates that the avoided cost rates in that state, in addition to state and federal incentives, are attractive to PV developers,” Sukunta explained.Tweet