Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), the nation’s largest utility, has been bringing more solar to North Carolina. At the same time, it’s been trying to lower the rates it pays solar customers in the state for the power they send back to the grid.
Today, the utility issued a request for proposals (RFP) for 300 MW of new solar energy capacity in its Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress territories. The new capacity is expected to be in service by the end of 2015.
It’s great that so much solar is coming to North Carolina, which recently jumped three places to become the #2 solar state in installed capacity.
Yet it’s not a simple situation.
The utility is touting the benefits of these developments to its customers. Rob Caldwell, vice president, Renewable Generation Development, said in a statement, "This proposal will practically double our current solar capacity for customers in the Carolinas."
That sounds like a positive development. Still, these large-scale installations keep control in the hands of the utility -- while Duke Energy continues its attempts to make it harder for customers to put solar on their own roofs.
We need all kinds of solar, including utility-scale. But we don’t need a monopoly on solar.
And we’re looking at large projects. The company's RFP is targeting solar facilities greater than 5 MW. According to Caldwell, there are many eligible projects – with more than 2,500 MW of capacity being proposed in the state by solar developers.
The RFP is limited to projects that are in the company's current transmission and distribution queue, because those have a realistic chance to be completed by the end of 2015. Duke Energy affiliates will not be allowed to participate in the RFP.
The RFP gives bidders the flexibility to offer power and associated renewable energy certificates, and/or to provide a turnkey solution in which Duke Energy takes ownership of the new facility. It also includes South Carolina. North Carolina's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (REPS) allows for renewable energy facilities connected to the Carolinas system to meet the state's compliance obligations. That means that facilities in South Carolina are also eligible to submit proposals for the power and associated renewable energy certificates, if they meet other criteria in the RFP.
"Our mission is to bring more renewable generation onto the Duke Energy system in the most cost-effective manner possible," said Caldwell. In other words, the company wants to meet the state’s REPS while protecting its financial interests.
"This RFP allows the company to take advantage of projects already in the planning stages," he added. "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."
Caldwell said the company should be able to have projects selected and negotiations completed by Oct. 1, 2014. He added the ownership option gives Duke Energy additional benefits. "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," he 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."
We welcome so much more solar power generation coming online. We also hope that distributed rooftop solar generation will be given a prominent seat at the table in the Carolinas.
For more information about the Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress RFP, see Renewable Energy Proposals North Carolina.