- The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a settlement by Duke Energy and more than 30 solar developers to find ways to avoid outages caused by solar projects connecting the the grid, including provisions that allow it to disconnect generators in event of a problem.
- Regulators said they are "satisfied that Duke is taking appropriate steps" to mitigate issues, and now allows more than 30 solar projects that had interconnections put on hold to move forward.
- North Carolina is second in the nation, behind only California, when it comes to installed solar capacity, and officials at Duke say they are doing everything they can to bring as much clean energy online while also remaining prepared to protect retail service.
Duke is still trying to work through the growing pains that go along with rapid solar expansion—just ask Hawaii, which faced similar interconnection issues last year. But in North Carolina, Duke has reached an agreement with 33 solar projects that allows them to connect to the grid while giving the utility operational control to protect its infrastructure.
The agreement, reached in August, allows projects that failed a “circuit stiffness review” to move forward, while providing Duke with monitoring equipment and the right to disconnect a generator if problems arise. The NCUC's decision this week lent support to Duke's caution.
Interconnection issues have continually plagued utilities and solar developers. A survey by EQ Research showed that online processes are a better way to speed up interconnection processes. But utilities are often concerned with reliability issues, as seen in some solar heavy states like Hawaii. But EQ suggested providing maps or information showing interconnection congestion is one way to mitigate that issue.
Charlotte Business Journal predicts this will be the beginning, not end, of the debate, however. They spoke with Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless, who explained that "what the commission said is that what we’ve been doing is looking for a reasonable way to satisfy the need of developers for new connection and the keep the grid reliable."
Duke has previously said it has 1,800 MW of solar capacity through projects it owns and capacity it purchases, but there is almost double that amount of capacity currently being developed.