ENC Regional News
12:20 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Utilities offer incentives to commercial and residential consumers to help them meet renewable energy goals

Utilities offer incentives to commercial and residential consumers to help them meet renewable energy goals

New Bern, NC – INTRO - State utilities are looking for an assist from commercial and residential concerns as they try to meet state standards for renewable energy production. George Olsen has more.

In 2007 North Carolina became the first state in the southeast to adopt renewable energy portfolio standards. By 2021 investor-owned utilities will have to supply 12.5% of energy needs through renewable resources such as solar, wind and hydro-electric.

"In Wilmington we have a 1.2 megawatt solar array at our Sutton coal-fired power plant. So right there on our own grounds we have built one of the state's largest solar arrays so you're going to have a unique site in that you have a solar array next to a coal plant that is going to be retired and replaced with a clean natural gas plant."

Scott Sutton, an environmental communications specialist with Progress Energy. He's says at the moment 1-to-3% of the energy that Progress provides is from renewable sources. Sutton says Progress hopes to hit the 4% level by next year and to do that they'll need to bring renewable power online from wherever they can find.

"We have 120 solar panels on top of the roof to our warehouse. They are broken down into 4 separate grids. Each grid is capable of producing 6-and-a-quarter kilowatts of electricity. Each grid feeds its own individual converter. Once they go to each one of these individual transformers they are joined in another device and then that device feeds a meter that goes back to the power grid to Progress Energy."

David Jackson is the CFO for Jackson & Sons Heating and Air Conditioning in Dudley. Since April of last year they've been tied into the electrical grid selling energy. The checks they've received from Progress range from $900 in the summer to $300 in the winter. But their initial investment in the 25 kilowatt system was $150,000, meaning getting their investment back from energy sales is unlikely.

"The big benefit comes from the tax credits. There's a 35% state tax credit which is paid out at 7% a year for five years, and there's a 30% federal tax credit which is paid up at one time, and on top of that you have the depreciation where you can depreciate 100% of the cost of the project which amounts based on your tax bracket to 35-40% more so you basically get your money back through the tax system if you are a tax payer."

David Jackson says they expect to get their initial investment back in about 3-and-a-half years. He says Jackson & Sons initial success taking part in what Progress Energy dubs its SunSense commercial program has prompted several calls from area businesses and farms inquiring into the model. However, a commercial enterprise will probably have better access to financing to pay for what are still relatively expensive solar systems. An individual would have problems with up-front costs, which has prompted Progress Energy to come up with a SunSense residential program. Scott Sutton.

"We recognize that most of our customers may not have the 40-60,000 dollars it might take upfront to install one of these systems, so our SunSense Solar PV program will pay you a thousand dollars for every kilowatt of installed capacity up to $10,000, so that means if you install a 10 kilowatt system you will get a $10,000 upfront check from Progress Energy which takes a huge chunk off the cost right off the bat."

Progress will also pay 4.5 cents per kilowatt for renewable energy a residential system puts back into the grid in the program that just went live January 1st. The commercial program has been in place since 2009 and in addition to smaller commercial customers like Jackson & Sons the SunSense commercial program has five 250 kilowatt arrays the largest arrays allowed under the program though they've just doubled that to a max of 500 kilowatts. The latest of those 250 kilowatt arrays just went online, built at the Global TransPark at Kinston. Its dedication was scheduled this week though the weather forecast that day called for cloudy skies and a near 100% chance of rain, underscoring one problem beyond upfront costs with solar energy. I'm George Olsen.