Duke Energy said it is building three new solar facilities in North Carolina – in Bladen, Duplin and Wilson counties – as part of a $500 million commitment to expand its capacity for generating solar power.
The projects announced Monday by the Charlotte-based utility also include agreements to purchase solar power from five new solar projects in the state. Combined with the three solar facilities that Duke will own and operate, the eight projects will boost the amount of solar power generated for the utility’s North Carolina customers by 60 percent.
Duke boasts that the 65 megawatt facility planned for Duplin County will be the largest of its type east of the Mississippi River. That farm is being built by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar. Duke is also planning a 40 megawatt facility in Elm City in Wilson County and a 23 megawatt facility it’s calling the Fayetteville Solar Facility in Bladen County near the Cumberland County line.
All three facilities are expected to be operating by the end of 2015.
Environmental group Greenpeace issued a statement saying that the utility’s expanded use of solar energy is encouraging “but unfortunately, Duke Energy’s long-term plans still call for renewable energy like solar to account for a mere 4 percent of its energy portfolio 15 years from now.”
The $500 million commitment is roughly split evenly between the facilities Duke is building itself and the power-purchase agreements, said utility spokesman Randy Wheeless. The eight projects combined represent 278 megawatts of solar capacity.
Duke must obtain approval from state regulators for the facilities it will own. No approval from the state Utilities Commission is needed for the power-purchase agreements.
Duke previously announced 33 other agreements in North Carolina this year for projects that would boost its solar capacity by 109 megawatts.