- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina agency has approved Duke Energy’s plans to invest $500 million in solar power to meet the state’s requirement that more of its electricity come from renewable energy.

The Charlotte-based utility will build three solar-generating facilities and purchase power from five more built by investors. The new solar arrays will produce 278 megawatts of electricity.

Duke said Monday that the plans were approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and will help the nation’s largest electric company meet its 2015 requirement that renewables produce 6 percent of its 2015 retail sales.

“These projects will help provide significant amounts of cost-effective renewable energy to benefit our customers, comply with our state obligations and provide meaningful investments in the communities we serve,” said Rob Caldwell, the company’s senior vice president for distributed energy resources.

The solar generating facilities are in Duplin, Bladen and Wilson counties in the eastern part of the state.

The company says the projects will be completed by the end of next year, and should create 750 construction jobs at the three sites, he said.

Environmental groups have applauded Duke’s solar energy efforts and urged the company to shift more aggressively to renewable fuels.

The new electricity and the solar power Duke now buys from about 600 producers will total 748 megawatts by the time construction on the new solar farms is completed. That compares to 825 megawatts Duke’s coal-burning Cliffside Steam Station in Cleveland County can generate.

Solar has been hot lately, accounting for about half of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in the first half of this year, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a recent report. In the past two years, installed solar power has doubled for homes and quadrupled for utilities, the national trade group said.

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