A few utilities are trying another tack: renting the rooftops of homeowners or businesses, and handling the installation and maintenance of the solar panels themselves.
Duke Energy, a major utility serving the Carolinas and parts of the Midwest, aims to rent roof or land space from 425 sites in North Carolina.
Final permission from the regulator is forthcoming, but Duke hopes that they will all start producing solar power by 2010.
The 425 sites represents about half of Dukes original plan to install panels at some 850 sites, at a cost of about $100 million. The states Utilities Commission, it seems, considered that plan too ambitious and too expensive.
The program still isnt cheap: Duke plans now to spend $50 million on the project, which it says would feed enough energy back to the grid to power about 1,300 homes or less than one-tenth of one percent of Dukes 1.8 million customers in North Carolina.
According to Dave Scanzoni, a Duke spokesman, all customers, whether they have panels or not, will pay a surcharge on their monthly bills for the project: 8 cents per month for residential customers, and 42 cents for commercial customers. Factories will pay even more.
Dukes motivations include a requirement in North Carolina that it get 12.5 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2021.
This could be the future if we spread this out over several thousand sites, said Mr. Scanzoni.
Other utilities are working on similar programs. Southern California Edison has also announced plans to lease roof space for solar from a large distributor, ProLogis.
And Roger Duncan of Austin Energy told me that his utility was also looking into a similar program.