Duke sets goal to purchase 680 MW of solar in 2018 under new rules

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, North Carolina – the state that ranks only behind California in installed solar capacity – installed 995 MW of new capacity in 2016.

But if Duke Energy is able reach the goals it filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) on Monday, it will procure more than two-thirds of that itself in 2018 under the new competitive procurement rules signed into law in July.

The utility says it has plans to contract with developers to build 680 MW of new solar capacity next year as part of its competitive bidding procurement program. 80% to 90% of the new capacity will be located west of Raleigh, which Duke says will balance out the geography of solar deployment in the state.

These are the first solar plans that Duke has filed under House Bill 589, which instituted revisions to the way solar is contracted under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). Duke had long argued the law needed to be revised in order to reduce the cost of paying for solar for itself and its customers.

PURPA was passed at the height of the 1978-1979 oil crisis that saw the nations of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raise oil prices significantly, causing Western nations like the United States to try reducing their dependence on fossil fuels by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It effectively broke the utilities’ monopoly on owning electric-generating plants and created a market for independent power producers (IPPs) which according to the Union of Concerned Scientists accounts for 7% of the country’s power.

Under PURPA, utilities are legally required to buy power from independent power producers (IPP) if it is below their cost of generation from other sources, also known as “avoided costs”.

The legislation passed in July requires larger solar projects like the ones Duke is planning be procured through a competitive procurement model. To meet those requirements, auctions will be held for 2.66 GW of solar over the next 45 months.

Over the next five years, the company will look to procure nearly 3 GW of new solar in the state.