North Carolina's solar market is strengthening even as the expiration of its state renewable energy tax credit looms over developers.
NRG Home Solar announced today it has launched operations in North Carolina. In the coming months, the company will open a new office in Charlotte and hire workers to fill 50 full-time positions across the business, with plans to expand into Raleigh later this year.
“North Carolina has a tremendous appetite for solar; people are familiar with it because of all the utility- and commercial-scale projects,” said Kelcy Pegler Jr., president of NRG Home Solar, in an interview. “Being able to bring solar to the home is the next step."
North Carolina is currently the fourth-largest solar market in the United States. It's continuing to see rapid growth, but still has an underdeveloped residential solar market. That is largely because state law prohibits the third-party sale of electricity, which prevents solar companies from offering leases.
NRG plans to work around this by offering a loan, with the option for homeowners to own and install solar for no money down.
Leases have been the most popular type of residential solar financing in the U.S. to date because they’re relatively simple for the customer -- the solar installer manages their expenses, incentives and payback plan for them. Loans typically require the customer to be more hands-on and pay a steeper upfront fee to purchase the system.
But as solar costs have declined and companies have come up with new financial offerings, ownership has become more affordable. Many customers also feel empowered by owning their own system. GTM Research reports that third-party ownership of residential solar peaked in 2014.
Sungevity Inc. announced last week it is also expanding into North Carolina, claiming the title of the first national residential solar company to operate in North Carolina.
The company partnered with the solar energy investment platform Mosaic to create a 20-year loan product specifically designed for state residents. The option is structured so that residents can take advantage of both the 35 percent state income tax credit and the 30 percent federal renewable tax credit for solar customers.
While companies are finding ways to operate in North Carolina’s existing regulatory and legislative environment, North Carolina’s 35 percent state tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2015. Solar providers are planning to quickly ramp up activity in the state this year, but they don't seem too concerned with the policy change.
Duke Energy recently announced an RFP for 50 megawatts of solar projects sized 2 megawatts or larger -- targeting big commercial and industrial users like Google and Apple -- with delivery dates accepted through 2016. While the utility said it would ideally like projects to come on-line within the year, Duke seems to think project economics can pencil out even after the in-state tax incentive drops.
According to Pegler, NRG is also confident it can continue to offer affordable solar products in North Carolina beyond 2015, and after the federal Investment Tax Credit ramps down to 10 percent for solar leases and expires for solar loans at the end of 2016.
“We value all of our markets with the existing incentives and with an eye toward the planned step-down of those incentives,” he said.
NRG has launched a comprehensive home energy program based on cross-selling customers on solar, electric-vehicle charging, personal power and other products, which the company believes will strengthen its customer relationships.
Incentives have helped to build momentum in markets such as California, New York and New Jersey, Pegler continued. “Now what you see are those state incentives step down and the markets carrying themselves with the momentum of the customers alone.”