Solar energy is proving so successful in North Carolina that industry advocates want to double the amount of sun-powered electricity that is required by state law.
A bill introduced Monday in the General Assembly would raise North Carolina's solar energy requirement to 0.4 percent of all retail electricity sold by electric utilities by 2018. The current requirement, set by the state's sweeping 2007 green energy law, is 0.2 percent.
But despite solar energy's increasing popularity and falling costs, the state's politically powerful electric utilities say they won't support a legislative proposal that tinkers with rules that took months of delicate negotiations to establish.
If the mandate is not increased, solar advocates fear, Duke Energy and Progress Energy are likely to stop at their 0.2 percent requirement, rather than continue buying one of the most expensive forms of green energy.
"If the law doesn't pass, you're going to see solar companies like us move out of the state because there's no work," said Bob Kingery, co-founder and CEO of Southern Energy Management, a solar panel installer in Morrisville.
Solar energy has been far and away the most successful of the renewable resources that power companies have developed in North Carolina since the 2007 law required an increase in renewable energy and conservation efforts.
The law requires that 12.5 percent of retail electricity demand be met by renewables and conservation programs by 2021. The law includes individual targets for solar and biomass resources.
Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Raleigh-based Progress Energy are ahead of the current schedule on solar development. The state's largest power companies passed 2011 solar targets, as set in the law, and they are expected to pass their 2016 targets soon, at which point they would have no incentive to sign more solar deals.
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