Duke Energy wants to install up to 850 small solar plants at homes, schools, businesses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CHARLOTTE ó Duke Energy Carolinas is proposing a $100 million plan to install electricity generating solar panels at up to 850 North Carolina sites, including homes, schools, stores and factories.
But don’t call Duke yet to volunteer your home or business as a new solar generator. The company hasn’t gotten that far.
“The message is, stay tuned,” company spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “We will promote it broadly. We’re really excited about the idea, and we’ll share information” as the project moves forward.
Last Friday, the company filed an application with the N.C. Utilities Commission asking for approval to implement this solar distributed generation program. Distributed generation is energy created close to where it is used, rather than being produced in large power plants and transported to customers over power lines.
“We believe an initiative of this scope and scale will help us meet the requirement of North Carolina’s new Renewable and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard,” Keith Trent, group executive and chief regulatory officer, said in a press release. “This program also will enable us to evaluate the role of distributed generation on our system and gain experience in owning and operating renewable energy resources.”
If the program is approved by state regulators, Duke Energy Carolinas would spend two years installing approximately 20 megawatts of distributed solar generation on rooftops of customer businesses and homes or on ground sites within the company’s North Carolina service area.
But the company hasn’t even begun to compile of list of candidates. Sheehan said the company still has to study the “nitty gritty” of putting solar equipment on homes and businesses.
For instance, a home must have proper zoning to allow that type of solar equipment, and a home will have to be able to support the equipment.
Solar power has to be converted from direct to alternating current. Once that’s done, Duke Energy Carolinas customers will benefit from more than 16 megawatts of power, enough energy to serve more than 2,600 homes.
Duke Energy Carolinas would own and operate the equipment, and the power produced by each installation would be used to serve the utility’s customers. Customers who agree to place solar panels at their location would be rewarded based on the size of the installation and the amount of energy it produces.
Duke also aims to raise awareness about solar energy, and homeowners are free to pursue their own solar systems, Sheehan said.
If enough people and companies install solar energy equipment, the company hopes to “drive the price down” of such technology.
The company plans to recover its $100 million investment through North Carolina’s new rule requiring all utilities to provide 12.5 percent of customer needs with renewable sources or energy efficiency by 2021.
The company is also purchasing solar power. Recently, Duke Energy Carolinas announced it would buy about 16 megawatts of energy from the nation’s largest photovoltaic solar farm, to be built by SunEdison in Davidson County. Once operational in late 2010, the farm will supply enough energy to power more than 2,600 homes.
Staff writer Frank DeLoache contributed to this article.