Duke Energy is accelerating its push into solar energy.
The utility issued Friday a request for proposals to gain up to 300 megawatts of new capacity within its Carolinas and Duke Progress Energy territories.
“This proposal will practically double our current solar capacity for customers in the Carolinas,” Rob Caldwell, the utility’s vice president for renewable generation development, said in a statement.
Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said the utility currently purchases about 350 megawatts of solar capacity in North Carolina. “We don’t own much in North Carolina, slightly more than 10 megawatts on the regulated side and 40 megawatts on the unregulated side,” Wheeless said.
The impetus for building solar farms in North Carolina comes from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires public utilities to have the equivalent of 6 percent of their retail sales come from renewable-energy and energy-efficient sources by 2015. That’s up from 3 percent now.
That requirement jumps to 10 percent in 2018 and 12.5 percent in 2021.
The request has a limited-time-only aspect.
Duke said the projects must have a realistic chance of being completed by the end of 2015 and be within its transmission and distribution queue. The goal is completing negotiations by Oct. 1. Duke Energy affiliates will not be allowed to participate in the proposals.
The utility wants facilities with capacity greater than 5 megawatts. It said there are several eligible projects being proposed in North Carolina that combined could provide more than 2,500 megawatts of capacity.
By comparison, most of the existing or proposed solar farms in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina are at or below the 5-megawatt capacity.
The largest is the 17-megawatt solar farm operated since December 2010 by SunEdison LLC near Linwood in Davidson County. Strata Solar LLC of Chapel Hill operates a 6.4-megawatt site in Mocksville off Eaton Road.
Caldwell said the initiative “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.”
Wheeless said some developers might want to avoid carrying the financing on the plants after they are built.
“Build, sell, move on,” he said.
“We run power plants for a living. So owning a solar one isn’t much different than any other. They all generate power. Outside of our traditional territory, we own solar plants in eight states.”
Facilities in South Carolina are eligible to submit proposals if they meet other standard criteria.
Duke Energy put out a similar request for proposals in Indiana last week.
Strata Solar wants permission to build the first major solar farm in Forsyth County, a 5-megawatt facility on the south side of West Clemmonsville Road, west of Ebert Road. The land is mostly undeveloped, although there is a small retail presence nearby at the roads’ intersection.
Strata has applied for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the N.C. Utilities Commission. Strata did not list a project cost, citing confidentiality agreements.
Strata has established a limited liability company, South Winston Farm LLC, which would own the proposed facility. The company has entered land leases with Harold and Iva Stinson, Diane McGee and Stanley Bingham.
On Feb. 24, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on a zoning text amendment that would define solar farms in the Unified Development Ordinances and create additional screening requirements. The City-County Planning Board recommended the amendment Jan. 9.
David Reed, a principal planner with the city-county planning department, told commissioners the amendment is a proactive effort in case solar farms are proposed for the county.
The text amendment is being considered only in the county, but could be brought before the Winston-Salem City Council, Reed said.
Solar farms currently fall under utilities in Forsyth County’s ordinance but don’t have a specific definition. With the changes, solar farms would be a subcategory under utilities with additional requirements.
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