Five years ago, if you were looking for three nouns unlikely to be found in the same sentence, they were “Duke”, “solar” and “Kentucky”. Duke was among the group of Southern utilities that had been notoriously resistant to solar, and Kentucky – which along with West Virginia contains the heart of coal country – has not exactly been a leading state in this regard.
But five years later, much has changed, at least for Duke and solar. While it has sparred with renewable energy developers over implementation of PURPA, a federal law providing renewable energy contracts, Duke has not only deepened its involvement in solar through its power generation arm but for its utility customers as well. Overall, Duke says that it either owns or has contracted with 2.4 GW of solar in the states where is has retail businesses, as part of 5.4 GW of wind, solar and biomass company-wide by the end of 2016.
As a continuation of this trend, Duke is bringing solar to a region which has been a dark spot on the solar map. Later this summer, Overland Contracting, a subsidiary of Black and Veatch will begin construction for Duke on three solar projects in Grant and Kenton Counties, to supply electricity to customers of Duke Energy Kentucky.
This may be a part of a sign of changing attitudes in the region. “Our customers want solar,” said Jim Henning, president of Duke Energy Ohio & Kentucky.
Solar also offers advantages for Duke, which will own and operate the projects. “Now’s the right time for many reasons,” continued Henning. “For instance, the cost of building solar projects has come down significantly in recent years, making it more cost-competitive with other sources of power generation. And solar gives us the ability to add power capacity in incremental steps – allowing us to match the growing demand for electricity in the region.”
This includes demand from a new Amazon facility in Northern Kentucky. Amazon is one of several tech companies that has taken a pledge to supply its operations with 100% renewable energy.
Kentucky still has a long way to go, and the state is not even listed among the 40 states that GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) track in their Solar Market Insight Report. However, Kentucky should have at least 6.8 MW of solar online next year, as Duke expects the majority of construction activity to be completed by the end of 2017.
Correction: This article was corrected at 1 PM EST on July 17. An earlier version stated that the EPC contractor was unknown, however Duke later revealed that Overland was the contractor, and the article was updated accordingly.