Who’s the rising star in U.S. solar? It’s North Carolina. The state isn’t quite challenging California as the U.S. leader for solar development – the hugely populous, sun-splashed Golden State is most likely a permanent fixture at No. 1. But North Carolina appears to be nosing past the likes of Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and Massachusetts to claim the No. 2 spot.
The data aren’t all in on 2013, but in the third quarter of the year North Carolina registered 69 megawatts of new solar PV capacity, third behind California (455) and Arizona (169), according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And by analyst Solarbuzz’s estimation, for the entire year, “North Carolina was propelled into second place, due to strong utility-scale activity, overtaking both Arizona and New Jersey in the rankings.”
Looking ahead, Solarbuzz said in a separate report that if states were viewed as countries, North Carolina would join California as a Top 10 global solar market in 2014.
What accounts for North Carolina’s rise? Analysts agree that a renewable portfolio standard is a key force – as Solarbuzz noted, its growth is almost exclusively on the utility side. We’ll see what the 2013 data show, but In 2012, systems of 1 megawatt or greater in size grew by 849 percent in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, while systems less than 10 kilowatt grew by 41 percent.
Larry Shirley of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University told the Duke Chronicle that the 12.5 percent renewable sourcing requirement (by 2021) has “seemed to ignite the state,” and a 35 percent state solar tax credit hasn’t hurt either.
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast U.S. with an RPS, and as such the renewable energy incentive has been targeted by fossil fuel interests, using models developed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. But those efforts failed in 2013, in North Carolina and elsewhere. (In 2014, ALEC is leading an attempt to damage programs that incentivize residential solar installation, which is just getting going in a lot of places like North Carolina.)