Regulators place conditions on Duke solar program

NORTH CAROLINA - North Carolina regulators have attached conditions to their approval of Duke Energy Carolinas’ rooftop solar-energy initiative, and those restrictions could delay the program’s launch, Duke says.

The N.C. Utilities Commission has approved the proposed $50 million program, which would generate about 10 megawatts of solar energy from panels the utility would own atop some customers’ homes or businesses.

But spokeswoman Paige Sheehan says the company must determine the impact of the conditions the commission has imposed before it sets a start date for the program.

The key restriction included in the commission’s approval is a limitation on the amount of money Duke can recover under the state’s renewable-energy portfolio standards. That law sets minimum requirements for renewable-energy production in the state. But it also caps the amount of money a utility is required to spend on renewable sources of energy. Lawmakers added that provision to the 2007 legislation to protect utility customers from high power bills resulting from a utility’s investment in renewable power. Such energy is typically more expensive than power generated from traditional sources.

The commission’s Public Staff and others had questioned whether Duke’s program could push the company to that cost limit long before it reached the annual goals for generating renewable energy.

Duke concedes the rooftop program will be more expensive than other solar alternatives. For instance, Duke expects to get more power at a lower cost from its plan to buy energy for resale from a solar farm Sun Edison is to build in Davidson County by 2011. But Duke contends there are sound public-policy reasons for accepting the more expensive program.

Sheehan says Duke remains committed to the rooftop solar initiative. And she says the delay to review the impact of the commission’s conditions will be short.


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