Your 2019 guide to getting solar panels for your home in North Carolina
This page is a complete guide to the complicated and sometimes confusing process of installing solar panels on your North Carolina home. Since there's a lot to consider, we've separated the page into sections to help you find what you are looking for. If you find this page useful, please share it with someone who might also find it interesting!
** What's new for 2019 **
North Carolina’s been a regional leader encouraging solar power for years now, and thanks to a little help from our non-profit friends, things are continuing to look bright for renewable energy. While the current picture is pretty rosy indeed, things aren't quite as good as they have been.
See, North Carolina’s major energy suppliers have met their Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals (we’ll get to exactly what an RPS is in just a second). The utilities have reined in their own solar incentives, and the state’s excellent solar tax credit expired at the end of 2015.
But it's not all bad news! Solar is cheaper than ever, and the cost and payback time of a solar system is better than in some states. The legislature could do more to ensure a sunny future for solar by strengthening the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, and renewing the expired state tax credit, but solar still makes a good deal of sense here.
Questions? Our network of solar experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page. You can get discounted on-grid pricing as low as $4,000/kW! This is paired with the North Carolina solar incentives you see below.
The Solar Strategy section is focused on the 3 ways of paying for solar in North Carolina, so you can decide which is best for you. We've created a tool that asks you a few questions and recommends whether you should pursue a solar lease, loan, or outright purchase. Then, we provide detailed analysis of how each works.
The Policy Information section contains all our latest research on the rules set by lawmakers and the Public Utilities Commission, which determine how easy it is to go solar in North Carolina. These policies and rules govern everything from renewable energy mandates to interconnection, and have a huge effect on the viability of solar.
Finally, the Solar Incentives section includes information about money-back rebates and grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions for going solar in North Carolina.
Click any of the boxes below to go to that section of the page, or scroll down to read the page in order.
|Your North Carolina Solar Strategy|
|North Carolina Solar Policy Information|
|North Carolina Solar Incentives|
|Your North Carolina Solar Strategy|
|Comparing Solar Investment Options|
|Paying Cash for Solar in North Carolina|
|Solar Loans in North Carolina|
|Solar PPAs in North Carolina|
|Solar Purchase Payback Time in North Carolina|
|North Carolina Solar Policy Information|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)|
|RPS Solar Carve-Out|
Your Solar Strategy in North Carolina
Figuring out the best way to go solar in North Carolina can be a little daunting. From loans and leases to power-purchase agreements, there are a lot of options out there. To help you pick the one that might be best, we've created the handy decision tool below.
We'll ask you a few simple questions about you and your home. Once you're done, we'll recommend a good option. Further down this page, we provide cost estimates and example return-on-investment calculations for all the various options:
How to pay for solar panels in North Carolina
The chart above shows the 25-year returns for an investment in solar whether you choose to purchase a system with cash or pay over time with a loan. That might look a little complicated to you, so let's break it down:
The green bars show the return if you pay up front. As you can see, there's a big payment (negative) in year 1, which gets slowly erased by elecricity savings over time. The orange bars, on the other hand, show what happens if you take a solar loan or Home-Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) to pay for the system. You don't put any money down, and you still get the tax credit, meaning you actually come out ahead in year 1. The bars dip after year 6, because your loan payments (over a 15-year term) will exceed your energy savings by a little each year. Still, in the end, you'll come out thousands of dollars ahead over the 25-year estimate.
Finally, the blue bars represent a similar loan scenario, but for a smaller solar system. The loan and savings will be smaller, but it's a great way to go solar, even of you don't have a lot of cash or equity. Usually this is where we'd show you the savings with a solar Power-Purchase Agreement, but North Carolina is one of only 5 states in the country that ban third-party ownership.
There's still a lot to love about solar in the Tar Heel State. Read on to find out more about each option!
Option 1: Paying cash for solar
Paying up front used to be the only way to get panels on your roof, and it's still the option that allows you the most control. But it isn't the best option from a percentage return on investment standpoint—that award goes to the solar loan.
Still, an outright purchase returns the most money over time, because you own the system from day one and reap all the benefits—including a Federal solar tax credit of 30% of the costs, and some decent energy bill savings. In our example, you put down $16,250, but by the end of year 1, those incentives and energy savings will erase a bunch of it. Over 25 years, your system will have produced nearly $13,000 in income. You'll be earning that over time, just like putting money in a retirement account. Here's how solar compares to an alternative investment:
Here’s how the numbers work for a North Carolina solar purchase of a 5-kW rooftop solar system:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $16,250.
- First, subtract your energy bill savings of $686, reducing your year-1 investment to $15,564.
- Since the Feds calculate their incentive based on out of pocket costs, you'll get 30% of that back as a tax credit. Subtract $4,875, for a new price of $10,689. Note: you can take the credit several years if you don't owe that much in Federal taxes this year.
- Your energy bill savings will grow over the life of your system as the price of electricity goes up. Your system will pay itself back after 14 years, and you'll end up with $12,926 profit at the end of your panels' 25-year warranty. The rate of return on this investment is 6.7%. That's pretty good!
- On top of those profits, your home's value just increased by just about $18,000, too (your expected electricity savings over 20 years)!
- And speaking of doing good for the environment... your system will create some green for the earth by not using electricity from fossil-fuels. In fact, the energy you’re not using has the carbon equivalent of planting 106 trees a year, every year your solar power system is humming.
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Carolina. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar panel system, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 2: Using a loan to pay for solar
This is where we tell you that taking a loan for solar panels is a no-brainer, because it means investing in an income-generating asset. It's true! As you can see from the chart above, you'll start out with a big windfall, because with a loan, you're not putting any money down, and you get the Federal 30% solar tax credit just like if you paid up front for your system.
You'll end up paying a little more for loan payments than you'll save on energy costs, but the key here is that you'll pay the loan off in year 15, and start saving tons of money every year after, because you'll own the system outright. You'll end up $7,540 to the good after 25 years, which is great for an investment where you put nothing down!
A solar purchase like this will make sense for you if the following is true about you and your current situation:
- You can qualify for a solar loan or home-equity line of credit (HELOC) for with a fixed rate of 4% or lower and a 15-year repayment period.
- You have an appetite for making a little money with a long-term investment, while also producing benefits for the environment.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out for a North Carolina solar purchase with a loan:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $16,250. That's how big your loan will need to be to cover it.
- The electricity bill savings in the first year of operation will total $686, but your loan payments will be $1,442 for a difference of $756, or about $63 per month.
- Then comes the tax credit! The Feds will give you 30% of the cost of your system back at the end of the year; that's $4,875. After the first year, you'll come out $4,119 ahead, which will help eliminate the burden of loan payments.
- When your loan’s paid off after year 15, you’ll start to see over $1,000 per year in savings until the end of your system’s life.
- For our 25-year estimate, you'll see pretty nice returns, to the tune of $7,540 after all the payments. That's a huge amount of money for a zero-down investment!
- Finally, the environmental benefits cannot be overstated. Operating your system will take as much carbon out of the air as planting 104 trees every year!
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Carolina. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar loan, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 3: Buying the electricity, not the panels with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
North Carolina does not offer solar Power Purchase Agreements or leases. Perhaps it would be a good idea to contact a solar advocacy organization and ask them to fight for solar in your state!
North Carolina Solar Policy Information
Ever wonder why solar seems to be everywhere in some states, but not in others? We did too.
State legislatures and public utilities commissions can enact rules to make solar power accessible for everyone. Favorable rules explain why some of the cloudiest states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are doing so well with solar, and yet some of those with the most natural solar resources—like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia—are doing so poorly.
Below is important information about the public policy, rules, and economic reasons that affect your ability to go solar here in North Carolina:
12.5% by 2021
A Renewables Portfolio Standard (“RPS”) requires utilities in the state to eventually source at least a certain percentage of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like solar panels.
North Carolina’s RPS, first passed in 2007, requires all investor-owned utilities to produce 12.5% renewable energy by 2021. Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives have a lower goal of 10% renewables by 2018. The RPS also includes a small carve-out for solar power of 0.2% by 2018. That ain’t much, but a mandate is a mandate.
In this case, though, the mandate has already been surpassed. North Carolina is one of the nation's top solar markets. As an addendum to this information, it's worth noting that in 2018, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order mandating that the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. Though not an "RPS law" per se, this mandate will have a great effect on how much solar growth the state continues to see. Analysts at PV Magazine have identified electricity generation as the #1 place for reductions, meaning the potential for 25 gigawatts of new solar generation in North Carolina by 2025.
What's an RPS? Your state legislature paves the way for strong solar energy incentives to flourish by setting standards for renewable energy generation within their territories. Those standards are called the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). If utility companies do not meet these standards, they must pay alternative compliance fees directly to the state. Many utilities then determine the best ways to source their energy from renewable sources that are less expensive than this fee.
An RPS is a mandate that says "Hey utilities! Y'all now have to make a certain percentage of your electricity from renewable sources. If not, you'll have to pay us huge fines." The consequences are good, because utilities usually try to meet these RPS standards by creating solar power incentives for you, the homeowner. Read more about Renewable Portfolio Standards.
RPS solar carve out
.2% by 2020
The solar carve-out in North Carolina’s RPS states that 0.2% of the state’s electricity must be generated from solar by 2019. If you think that seems low, you’re right. The North Carolina solar carve out numbers have already been achieved by the state’s utilities. A strong RPS with an expanded carve out for solar would go a long way toward bringing better incentives to North Carolina homeowners again.
What's a solar set aside? A solar set aside guarantees a specific portion of the overall renewable energy mix generated comes from the sun. For those states with progressive standards, high alternative compliance payments, and clear solar carve outs, the faster those areas become ripe for solar.
Some states have higher alternative compliance fees than others, and some states have more progressive alternative energy standards and deadlines than others do.
For instance, New Jersey has an overall RPS of 22.5% by the year 2021. That requires local utilities to source 22.5% of their energy mix from renewable sources by the year 2021. Pretty good. However, New Jersey also has a specific solar set aside of 4.1% by 2028. That’s the type of firm commitment which really gets the industry rolling forward. No wonder why New Jersey is one of the hottest solar markets right now!
North Carolina Electricity Prices
The average cost of electricity here is 11 cents per kilowatt hour (“kWh”). That’s really cheap! Even cheaper than the national average of 13 cents/kWh. Why is energy so inexpensive? Oh, only because coal and other destructive fossil fuels are generating all that energy.
No biggie. NOT GOOD! When all of the fossil fuel we’re burning starts to catch up with us, new regulations and scarcity is going to cause energy prices to rise, and rise, and rise. All those rising rates are going to cost you boatloads! That is… unless you are making your own power from say, a solar power system.
Why are electricity prices so important? Because that is what solar power is directly competing against. The cost to produce power with solar is relatively constant (of course how much sun hits your area has an effect), so if you are paying $0.40 per watt for power, then you make FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the guy or girl paying $0.10 per watt electricity.
The caveat here is that if the $0.10 per watt person has a HUGE rebate, they may be better off than the $0.40 per watt person. Because of that, states without any renewable standards tend to be heavily reliant on cheap coal for electricity, and also have very low electricity prices. When electricity prices are artificially low, that hinders the ability of solar energy to achieve meaningful payback in the state.
North Carolina Net Metering
Statewide for big utils
Net Metering requires your utility to monitor how much energy your solar power system produces and how much energy you actually consume, and make sure you get credit for the surplus. North Carolina law requires all three of North Carolina’s largest electric utilities –Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and Dominion North Carolina Power– to make net metering available to customers.
In general, any customer net excess generation (NEG) you produce in a billing month is carried forward as a credit to your bill the next month at the full retail rate. That’s great! What’s not so hot is that all unused credit transfers to the utility without compensation at the beginning of the summer season. You don’t get a check for your unused credits under the net metering law, the way you would in the TVA program. We can’t be too hard on North Carolina individually, since that’s a shameful trend we’ve seen in a lot of states now, but we’re still not happy about it. Your surplus should be your surplus, no matter how long you hold on to it.
What is net metering? Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. The more customer friendly net metering policies, the higher the grade.
The grade here specifically reflects individual solar system capacity, caps on program capacity limits, restrictions on “rollover” of kWh from one month to the next (yep just like cell phone minutes), metering issues (like charges for new meters), Renewable Energy Credit (REC) ownership, eligible customers and technology (the more renewables the better), being able to aggregate meters across the property for net metering, and safe harbor provisions to protect customers from solar tariff changes.
North Carolina Interconnection Rules
"Interconnection" refers to the rules that are in place about what needs to happen before you can get your solar system up and running with your utility company. North Carolina's interconnection policies are a mixed bag.
We like that small installations are eligible for fast track application status, but we don't like that the state leaves it up to utilities to decide whether they want to require redundant external disconnect switches and insurance, and impose fees on interconnection applications. We'd prefer to see a more streamlined, statewide policy.
Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The more complex, out of date, or nonsensical the state rules are for plugging into the grid, the lower the grade.
Specifically, the grade reflects what technologies are eligible, individual system capacity, removing interconnection process complexity for smaller systems, interconnection timelines and charges, engineering charges, prohibiting the requirement of unnecessary external disconnects, certification, spot interconnection vs. wide area interconnection, technical screens, friendliness of legalese, insurance requirements, dispute resolution, and rule coverage.
Solar Incentives in North Carolina
Next to high electricity prices and net metering, solar incentives have traditionally been the most important factor for whether home solar power makes financial sense in a state. In the past, some states with otherwise lousy policy had tremendous incentives that drove down the up-front cost of going solar so much that homeowners could save oodles of money even without net metering or a good RPS.
These days, the big incentive most people can get is the Federal Solar Tax Credit that earns you 30% of your costs back after just 1 year. State incentives play less of a role than in the past, but some really good ones are still out there, ready to help homeowners go solar and save money before you know it.
Let's see how North Carolina measures up:
North Carolina Solar Power Rebates
$600 per kW
North Carolina has a brand new solar rebate program that covers all customers of Duke and Duke Energy Progress. The program provides rebates of $.60 per watt for homeowners, so a typical 5-kW system at an average cost before rebate of $3.15 per watt would cost around $12,750 instead of $15,750. That price could be further reduced by the 30% federal solar tax credit to $8,925. That's a huge reduction in cost, just after 1 year!
Rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and considering how fast the 2018 program was fully subscribed, it'd be a good idea to be ready to file for your rebate at 9 AM on January 1st, 2019. If you want to be sure to get a Duke rebate, sign up for personalized solar quotes for your home now.
How do solar rebates work? Similar to getting a rebate card from your local big box store for a dishwasher purchase, state legislatures also provide rebates for solar panel purchases to spur on investment and create new jobs. If you purchase the solar panel system yourself, you qualify for this free cash, which many times is a lump payment back to you. Some solar installers like to take this amount directly off the total installed price, and they'll handle the paperwork for you to make things a lot less complex.
The availability of state and utility rebates were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The better the rebates, the higher the grade.
North Carolina Solar Power Tax Credits
North Carolina had one of the country's most amazing solar tax credits. Unfortunately, it expired in 2015, and nothing has come in to replace it.
About state solar tax credits: State tax credits are not technically free money. However, they are 'credits' and not 'deductions' which means that if you have the tax appetite to take advantage of them, then they can be a 1-to-1 dollar amount off your taxes instead of a fraction of the cost of the system. So that means they can be an important factor to consider. In certain circumstances, state tax credits can provide a very powerful incentive for people to go solar.
(Keep in mind, we are not tax professionals and give no tax advice so please consult a professional before acting on anything we say related to taxes)
The availability of personal tax credits for solar energy were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the tax credit amount, the higher the grade.
Solar Power Performance Payments
North Carolina has had a strange history with solar performance payments. In the past, we've seen people served by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) receive small per-kWh bonuses under their Green Power Proivders program, but no longer. There was also a non-profit callend NC Greenpower that used to buy SRECs and pay homeowners decent money for them. Not anymore.
Sorry, North Carolinians. At least you've still got those Duke solar rebates.
Explanation of performance payments: Performance payments represent a big chunk of the financial rationale for going solar, and in many instances they make your decision a wise one. For certain states, if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, not only will you be cutting your electric bill down to size, but you'll be getting paid additional cash from your utility company. Pretty awesome, huh? Not only are you generating electricity for yourself, freezing your own popsicles with sun, and feeling like you’re doing something smart for your children or any of the other 4 reasons people go solar, but you are getting PAID!
Utility companies are paying people with solar panels on their roofs because their states say they have to, otherwise they will pay a fee. Therefore, the payment amount to homeowners is typically a little bit less than the amount they would be billed for by the state. For states with these alternative compliance fees, Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) exchanges have popped up. In the above chart, we outlined an estimate of yearly payments a homeowner might expect from the utility company for the SREC credits from their solar energy system.
Expected SREC payments were calculated by using the latest trade values in the SRECtrade database. The availability of feed-in tariffs were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the expected monthly payments, the higher the grade.
We've got a great article if you like to read more about what SRECs are and how to earn them.
Property Tax Exemption
In addition to that awesome state solar panel tax credit, North Carolina gives you a little long-term love on your taxes as well when you install a solar power system. You see, when you install a solar power system, your home increases in value because of the anticipated savings in electricity costs. Exempting property value increases from solar power systems from accompanying property taxes is an easy way to incentivize solar power. North Carolina seems to agree; 80% of the home value increase from your solar power system is exempt from property taxes. That’s not the 100% exemption we’ve seen in a lot of states but… well… it’s 80% of the way there!
About solar property tax exemptions: Property tax exemption status is a pretty big factor when putting together your investment considerations. Some argue that solar power adds approximately 20 times your annual electricity bill savings (if you own the system and are not leasing). Other studies seem to indicate a home price premium about equal to solar panel cost, minus any incentives like the federal solar tax credit.
For many average-sized solar power systems on a house, that can mean adding $20,000 to your home value. And if you don't believe us, believe the bean counters: Many banks and solar financing companies now offer traditional style equity-based home loans for installing solar. An additional $20,000 in property tax basis in many states amounts to a big chunk of change owed back to the state. However, many states have complete exemptions from added taxes when you install solar on your home!
The availability of a property tax exemption for solar energy was sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Grades in this category are basically all-or-nothing. Either you got it or you don't. Thankfully, many states have "got it.".
Sales Tax Exemption
Unfortunately the equivalent sales taxes exemption that many states also have passed is a big fat 0% of the way there. As in, there is no sales tax exemption for the purchase and installation of solar power systems here. That’s a real shame. Sales tax exemptions help the local solar industry in addition to the customer, so they’re a double win, when such exemptions are in place that is.
What's the deal with solar power sales tax exemptions? When states give you a sales tax break on solar, we notice. You should too. State sales tax exemption status for the purchase of solar energy systems were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Sales tax exemptions, if present, were all 100%. A handful of states are completely exempt from sales tax regardless, and therefore received ‘A’ grades by default (OR, DE, MT, AK, and NH).
The consensus on North Carolina solar power rebates and incentives
For a state without a super-strong RPS, the prospects for solar in North Carolina are pretty impressive. The payback timeframe here is still superb – for now. Between the federal solar tax credit saving you bundles of cash up front, the state solar tax credit savings you another pile every year for up to 5 years, and the potential for great rebates, performance payments, and energy bill savings, North Carolina has one of the shortest payback timeframes we’ve seen yet. That’s if you can get all the benefits. The patchwork nature of the incentives and the weak RPS goals mean we can’t give North Carolina better than a “C,” even though it’s possible to beat the bank here in the Tar Heel State.
Remember too, the state tax credit is set to go away at the end of 2015, so if you’re on the fence, you should know that that single incentive, if you can get all of it within the 5-year timeframe, is worth 5 years of payback time reduction on its own. Put another way, that tax credit is the difference between a 6-to-9 year payback and a 11-to-14 year payback. That’s a big deal in the solar world.
Again, if you are confused about how these numbers work and would like some personalized assistance or a quote of your own, simply connect with our network of solar experts. They’ll help sort out all the pricing, get you access to special deals, and they’re super friendly to boot!