Duke boosts solar in North Carolina, but storage addition brings controversy
Duke Energy on Tuesday announced the start of two renewable energy programs that are expected to significantly increase solar power in its North Carolina territory and provide for combining energy storage with renewable resources, though that portion of the program has attracted controversy.
One program involves a request for proposals (RFP) seeking 680 MW of renewable resources in the form of large-scale solar or other renewable facilities in Duke territories in North Carolina and South Carolina.
- For the other program, Duke began accepting applications for its five-year, $62 million solar rebate program that is expected to more than double the number of private solar energy customers in North Carolina.
Duke signaled its intention to begin the programs in January and won approval for the solar rebate in April and for the RFP in February. Last month, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) approved the pro forma power purchase agreement that Duke proposed for the RFP program.
The pro forma PPA includes provisions for energy storage to be combined with renewable resources that are bid into the RFP process, but not all parties were happy with the way that was done.
"We asked for energy storage to be included in the RFP and then there was no conversation or inkling it would be included until Duke released the pro forma PPA a few weeks ago," Christopher Carmody, executive director of the North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance, told Utility Dive. "In our view, what Duke is trying to do is anti-competitive once again – extend their monopoly to energy storage."
Carmody is concerned that including storage in the PPA without sufficient public discussion will, in effect, "create an energy storage policy out of thin air." He is also concerned that Duke will limit the operational and financial flexibility of independent power producers and of customers and seek a series of "proscriptive rules about when and how batteries can and cannot be used."
While admitting there was some pushback on the energy storage issue, "we wanted to get the first tranche [of the RFP program] out," Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless told Utility Dive. "We could make modifications in the future. If there's fine tuning in the next tranche, we can do that." The next tranche will be in about a year.
In the June order from the NCUC, staff said it believes "increased opportunities for input and participation by market participants focused on energy storage" should be implemented prior to the issuance of the RFP program's second tranche.
Staff recommended that participation should be accomplished through a commission-directed technical conference or a separate stakeholder process. Staff said that process should be limited to energy storage participation in the RFP program and should include "a discussion of the costs, benefits, and mechanism of conferring onto Duke the right to control and dispatch energy storage solutions as if they were their own."
The RFP process calls for Duke to add 2,660 MW of utility-scale solar power over the next four years in keeping with North Carolina's Competitive Energy Solutions bill that became law in 2017. Duke Energy already has more than 2,500 MW of solar capacity that it either owns or is owned by third parties.
In terms of rooftop solar, Duke has about 65 MW. The new rebate program could support about 100 MW of solar panels, Wheeless said. "We've had smaller programs but not system wide. So, this is much bigger in scale," he said.
Bids for the RFP program are due Sept. 11.
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