Duke Energy Projects Lead Carolinas’ Solar Expansion

Duke Energy on April 17 announced it will develop six utility-scale solar power projects in North Carolina, among 14 solar projects chosen as part of the state’s Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy (CPRE) program.

The 14 projects—10 in North Carolina and four in South Carolina—could cost as much as $772.5 million to build according to Accion Group, a New Hampshire-based consultant to the energy industry. Duke said its own projects, with total generation capacity of about 270 MW, could cost up to $404 million to build and are expected online near the end of 2020.

The utility will purchase the power from the other eight projects, with the 14 installations in total representing just more than 600 MW of generation capacity. Two of the projects selected include battery storage along with solar generation.

Duke will own or operate more than 40 solar farms in North Carolina after the new projects are completed. The utility in recent years has expanded its solar portfolio in other parts of its service territory, including Florida and Georgia.

Rob Caldwell, senior vice president and president of Duke Energy Renewables & Business Development, in a news release said, “As solar energy expands in the Carolinas, the competitive bidding process will lead to better prices and more geographic diversity of projects. This will enhance Duke Energy’s efforts to promote a cleaner energy mix at lower prices for customers.”

The projects announced Wednesday represent the most competitive of the 78 that were submitted when bidding in the program opened in July 2018. The bidding process was approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to select projects that would deliver the greatest cost and system benefits to customers.

North Carolina, which has the nation’s second-largest installed solar power capacity according to government data, behind only California, issued requests for solar projects last year after the state in 2017 supported a measure designed to increase solar power generation.

Accion Group, the independent administrator for the North Carolina project, said state utility customers will recognize savings of about $375 million over a 20-year contract period, based on the difference between the new solar deals and previous solar contracts.

“There was robust interest in the CPRE program, and the selected projects will provide 20 years of cost-effective energy to the Duke Energy system,” said Harry Judd of the Accion Group. “Given the response, we are expecting the next phase of the program to also bring cost savings to customers.”

Duke Energy said it has invested more than $6 billion in renewable energy. The company operates more than 20 wind facilities and 60 solar facilities in 20 states. It at present has more than 3,000 MW of solar generation capacity connected to its grid in North and South Carolina, including its own projects and those owned by other companies with which Duke has power purchase agreements. Duke has said it wants to invest or procure as much as 7,000 MW of renewable generation by 2025.

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration said North Carolina increased its solar generation capacity by 36% in 2018, connecting more than 500 MW. The report said the state produced 7.2 million MWh of solar power last year.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).