Duke Energy is investing US$500 million in North Carolina’s solar power development. This culminates the utility's request for proposals (RFP) in February 2014, furthering its commitment to renewable energy, diversifying its energy portfolio and meeting North Carolina's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS).
60% increase in solar power
The company will acquire and construct three solar facilities totaling 128MW of capacity, including the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) facility east of the Mississippi River. Duke Energy also signed power purchase agreements with five new solar projects in the state, representing 150MW of capacity. In addition to these power purchase agreements, in 2014 so far, Duke Energy has signed 33 other agreements in North Carolina for projects which total 109MW of capacity.
Seven of the eight new solar farms will be set up in rural stretches of eastern North Carolina, where land is relatively cheap and available. The largest, a 65MW facility in Duplin County, will spread 850,000 solar panels across about 550 acres of land.
"This is Duke Energy's largest single announcement for solar power and represents a 60% increase in the amount of solar power for our North Carolina customers," said Rob Caldwell, senior vice president, Distributed Energy Resources for Duke Energy. "We are bringing large amounts of renewable energy onto our system in the most cost-effective way possible."
Duke Energy will own the 65MW Warsaw Solar Facility in Duplin County; the 40 MW Elm City Solar Facility in Wilson County; and the 23 MW Fayetteville Solar Facility, Bladen County, near the Cumberland County line. The Warsaw Solar Facility will be the largest PV plant east of the Mississippi River.
Renewable energy plans on track
The RFP, which targeted solar facilities more than 5MW, is a major step toward Duke Energy being more aggressive at adding renewable energy to its generating mix.
"We were able to pursue the most promising projects in North Carolina. These will be among the largest solar projects in the state, allowing us to take advantage of greater size and scale," Caldwell said. "We will continue to seek opportunities to add renewable energy to our diverse energy portfolio. Through the years, Duke Energy's strength has been owning and operating generation assets reliably and safely for the benefit of our customers. Renewable energy is the next step in that evolution."
The new electricity and the solar power Duke Energy now buys from about 600 producers will total 748MW by the time construction on the new solar farms is completed next year.
Duke Energy must still obtain approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) on the projects it will own for the transfer of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the developing company to Duke Energy. Once this occurs, Duke Energy will take ownership of the facilities and bear the responsibility of building and having them in operation by the end of 2015.
Solar currently accounts for about half of all new electric generating capacity in the US in the first half of this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In the past two years, installed solar power has doubled for homes and quadrupled for utilities.