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With recent setbacks, is North Carolina's solar power industry cooling off?

Star News Online|Gareth McGrath|October 13, 2022
North CarolinaPhotovoltaic Solar
Late last month the Pender County Commissioners rejected a proposal to build a giant solar panel farm in the western part of the county. It would have covered nearly 1,800 football fields and generated enough electricity to power 50,000 homes. Then a week later, one of the state's largest solar energy companies announced it was going out of business. Mooresville-based Pink Energy, which served 35,000 residential solar customers in 16 states, including 5,700 in North Carolina, said faulty equipment from a business partner led to its downfall. There's no doubt the two events are marks against what has been a thriving market in North Carolina for nearly a decade, but officials said it's way too early to say the sun is starting to set on solar energy in the state.

Solar power, both residential and larger systems, has seen massive growth in North Carolina over the past decade.
 
Late last month the Pender County Commissioners rejected a proposal to build a giant solar panel farm in the western part of the county. It would have covered nearly 1,800 football fields and generated enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
 
Then a week later, one of the state's largest solar energy companies announced it was going out of business. Mooresville-based Pink Energy, which served 35,000 residential solar customers in 16 states, including 5,700 in North Carolina, said faulty equipment from a business partner led to its downfall.
 
There's no doubt the two events are marks against what has been a thriving market in North Carolina for nearly a decade, but officials said it's way too early to say the sun is starting to set on solar energy in the state.
 
Joel Porter, policy manager with CleanAIRE NC, said the solar industry has generated too much momentum and is too important to the state's goal of decarbonizing its economy to see it slowing down now.
 
"I ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]
     
Solar power, both residential and larger systems, has seen massive growth in North Carolina over the past decade.
 
Late last month the Pender County Commissioners rejected a proposal to build a giant solar panel farm in the western part of the county. It would have covered nearly 1,800 football fields and generated enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
 
Then a week later, one of the state's largest solar energy companies announced it was going out of business. Mooresville-based Pink Energy, which served 35,000 residential solar customers in 16 states, including 5,700 in North Carolina, said faulty equipment from a business partner led to its downfall.
 
There's no doubt the two events are marks against what has been a thriving market in North Carolina for nearly a decade, but officials said it's way too early to say the sun is starting to set on solar energy in the state.
 
Joel Porter, policy manager with CleanAIRE NC, said the solar industry has generated too much momentum and is too important to the state's goal of decarbonizing its economy to see it slowing down now.
 
"I firmly believe this is just a bump in the road," he said.
 
A solar array constructed by Cypress Creek Renewables in Clarkton, North Carolina. The company has several proposals to build solar farms in the Hudson Valley.
 
Rise of renewables
 
History, recent political decisions and public pressure to move away from greenhouse gas-polluting fossil fuels appears to support that the solar market will continue to shine in the Tar Heel State for years to come.
 
According to a report released last week by Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group, North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for the growth of solar generation between 2012 and 2021.
 
The report found that North Carolina jumped from producing 185 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power from solar in 2012 to 10,373 GWh in 2021. That's enough electricity to power more than 968,000 homes for a year, the report states.
 
The state also saw jumps in other renewable energy sources over the decade.
 
Wind power generation went from zero at the start of last decade to 543 GWh by 2018, although it has stayed flat since then. That is expected to change later this decade when several large offshore wind farms, one off the Outer Banks and two south of Bald Head Island in Brunswick County, come online.
 
Electric vehicle (EV) sales and charging ports also are growing rapidly. According to the dashboard, the number of EVs sold in North Carolina increased from under a thousand in 2012 to more than 12,600 in 2021. Charging ports in the state also have jumped from just over 250 at the start of last decade to nearly 2,600 last year.
 
During an online press conference Tuesday to highlight the progress North Carolina is making toward adopting a "green" energy future, Johanna Neuman said growth of renewables in the Tar Heel State was echoed nationwide. The senior director for Environment America's renewable energy push said energy from renewable sources is three times what it was in 2012 and now represented 13% of the country's electricity production.
 
Even with the progress North Carolina and the country has seen as a whole, Katie Craig, state director with N.C. Public Interest Research Group, said it was important for political leaders to continue their lead in pushing and investing in renewable energy sources to improve community health and help consumers develop a greener energy footprint.
 
Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., has actively pushed the state to develop a greener energy grid. Actions include the adoption of House Bill 951 last year. Under the bill hashed out by Cooper, the GOP-controlled General Assembly, and Duke Energy, the Tar Heel State committed to reduce carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Duke, as the state's largest utility, is in the process of working on a plan, with oversight by the N.C. Utilities Commission, to meet that goal. The utility giant has submitted several "pathways" to meet the requirement, although environmental groups claim Duke's proposals don't move quick enough and rely too much on natural gas and unproven technologies, including hydrogen and small modular nuclear reactors.
 
Renewable energy advocates also point to the programs and incentives included in President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act as further fueling the growth and adoption of renewable energy sources. The biggest climate investment bill ever adopted by Washington, the legislation includes $369 billion for states, businesses and consumers to battle climate change. Modeling by Energy Innovation found that the provisions in the act will spur clean energy and reduce pollution from fossil fuels, preventing up to 4,500 premature deaths and up to 119,000 asthma attacks annually by 2030.
 
Isolated incidents
 
So what happened with the recent solar energy setbacks?
 
With the failure of the huge $300 million Pender solar farm proposal, Porter said he thought a big problem could have been due to a lack of communication between the applicant and the local community over environmental concerns and other worries associated with the project. He said similar community concerns have been raised over other large energy projects, including a proposed huge lithium mine in Chatham County.
 
The failure of Pink Energy appears to be a product-based issue more than a black eye on the idea of adopting residential solar itself. The company says it received faulty switches, meant to protect residential solar systems from lightning strikes or power surges, from former business partner Generac Power Systems. Generac, for its part, says shoddy installation and service by Pink Energy is largely to blame.
 
"There are lots of companies selling good solar products in North Carolina," Porter said.
 
With thousands of state residents stuck with solar systems that might not work or be serviceable, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein has launched a formal investigation into Pink Energy. That comes on top of several other states already filing lawsuits against the company.

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Source:https://www.starnewsonline.co…

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