Last Friday Duke Energy, one of North Carolina’s largest power companies called for 300 more megawatts of solar energy in a new request for proposals (RFP) to be installed by the end of 2015—just under two years. North Carolina has quickly grown from one of the nation’s smaller solar markets to the second largest last year.
"This proposal will practically double our current solar capacity for customers in the Carolinas," said Rob Caldwell, vice president, Renewable Generation Development. "It gives developers the opportunity to pursue projects for the long term, or to negotiate for Duke Energy to acquire ownership of the new facilities once they are operational."
Among other factors in the state’s meteoric solar growth is the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires investor-owned utilities like Duke Energy to source 12.5 percent their electricity from renewable sources by 2020—with a minimum of .2 percent coming from solar power. While one of the nation’s smaller RPS’ North Carolina is still among the nation’s best states for solar rooftops.
Already solar power projects underway in North Carolina rival those in the U.S. Southwest where population is sparse as is most vegetation. In fact, last February (2013) Strata Solar announced plans to build a 100 MW solar farm in Duplin County, N.C., rivaling some of the largest solar projects in the U.S. and world. The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club observed in a fact sheet that: “This project, employing 400 construction workers, will be the largest east of the Mississippi River, and eight times larger than any solar project currently operating in North Carolina.” However that project will service Progress Energy’s customers.
Duke Energy’s new RFP in North Carolina will focus on a projects larger than 5 megawatts, so don’t rule out another 100 MW PV project in the state. Under the RFP, bidders can offer the solar electricity produced as well as the associated renewable energy certificates for the project to Duke, and/or they can provide a solar farm that Duke Energy takes ownership of.
"For bidders who wish for Duke Energy to assume ownership, it will allow us to better locate and integrate the new capacity into our energy mix," Caldwell said. "We are in the best position to manage the unique characteristics of intermittent solar generation into our existing system to assure cost-effective, reliable, dependable electricity for our customers."
Already more than 2.5 gigawatts of new solar generating capacity have been proposed throughout North Carolina, according to Caldwell. "Our mission is to bring more renewable generation onto the Duke Energy system in the most cost-effective manner possible," he said. "This RFP allows the company to take advantage of projects already in the planning stages."
The new RFP is limited to projects located within Duke Energy’s current transmission and distribution queue. Because, as the utility stated, those projects are the most likely to come online within the slated time period. Duke plans to select the projects by Oct. 2014, according to Caldwell.
While Duke Energy has been at odds with solar laws in North Carolina is also is a supporter of the energy source and has invested in rooftop solar through Clean Power Finance and other opportunities. It also recently issued an RFP for 15 megawatts of wind and or solar projects in Indiana and owns solar facilities across the U.S., including in states like California and Texas, where it only operates as an energy provider.
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