Duke Energy solar panels

Duke Energy employee Bilbo Garrison works on solar panels at Capital Partners Solar in Elizabeth City.

Within the next two years, Duke Energy expects to boost by a fifth its supply of solar power in North Carolina and South Carolina, thanks to a mix of newly announced company owned and third-party projects.

A total of 14 new projects will add roughly 600 megawatts of solar power to 3,000 that the Charlotte-based utility currently deploys across the two states, the company said in a news release earlier this week.

Ten of the projects are located in North Carolina and six of the Tar Heel installations will be built and owned outright by Duke Energy. The remainder are solar farms developed by others that Duke Energy could either purchase when complete or buy the power they produce under a long-term contract.

“This will enhance Duke Energy’s efforts to promote a cleaner energy mix at lower prices for consumers,” said Rob Caldwell, a senior executive with the Charlotte-based utility.

Duke Energy officials estimate that over their first 20 years in operation the new solar projects should save power customers roughly $375 million.

Together, the new solar farms represent an investment of about $750 million.

All 14 projects emerged as the winners among 78 proposals initially submitted through a “Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy” process, which was supervised by an independent consulting firm in a process approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Reviewers picked the winning projects based on their ability to meet basic, technical requirements and their financial competitiveness.

Caldwell said Duke Energy’s success in landing six of the 14 chosen projects was “a strong reflection of how competitive we are in the open market at building renewable energy projects.”

A North Carolina law enacted two years ago defines how statewide goals for increasing renewable energy can be met through a variety of ownership scenarios.

That mix includes solar projects the utility builds for itself, those built by outside investors who then sell their project to the utility and solar farms owned and operated by third parties who sell their electricity to a utility under contract.

North Carolina ranks second in the nation for its growth in solar power, behind California. Duke Energy has said it plans to more than double its current solar capacity in North Carolina and South Carolina to 7,000 megawatts during the next five years.

A megawatt is a measure of electric power equal to a million watts.

Duke Energy has steadily increased its reliance on solar power in recent years, but it is often criticized by environmentalists for what they view as an excessive reliance on climate-threatening natural gas and coal fired plants.

Critics also contend the utility has been less receptive than it should be to rooftop solar panels, which enable residential customers to generate their own power and sell some of it back to the utility.

Of the new Duke-owned projects slated for North Carolina, the closest to Greensboro is a 22.6-megawatt solar farm planned to the northwest in Surry County.

The other solar farms that Duke Energy plans to build, own and operate in North Carolina are slated for Catawba, Cleveland, Cabarrus, Gaston, and Onslow counties. Those projects range in size from 22.6 to 80 megawatts.

Duke Energy’s six projects in North Carolina account for just less than half the additional 602 megawatts that emerged from the competitive selection process.

In its Wednesday news release, Duke Energy said that it was not authorized to release information about the other eight projects approved under the 2017 law.

But the utility said most of the projects were expected to be finished by the end of next year. The independent monitor plans to release a report later this year that will provide details on all 14 sites, Duke Energy said.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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