Duke Energy’s green initiative may show quick results

December 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Duke Energy expects solar to be the principal form of renewable energy used in its new pilot program.

Duke Energy expects solar to be the principal form of renewable energy used in its new pilot program.

John Downey
Senior Staff Writer- Charlotte Business Journal

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Expect Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) to move quickly with its new green energy initiative now that N.C. regulators approved a three-year pilot that lets the company sell renewable energy at premium prices to large customers.

The N.C. Utilities Commission issued its order Thursday on the Green Source Rider, proposed by Duke in part because of an agreement made with Google Inc. in the spring, when that company announced plans for a $600 million expansion at its Lenoir data center.

Duke has the option of contracting with independent developers to build new renewable projects to provide the power, or to build new projects itself.

Google first? 

The pilot becomes effective Dec. 29, under the order. In a recent interview, before the commission acted, Duke’s North Carolina President Paul Newton anticipated it would not be long before potential customers signed on.

“Clearly with the Google expansion, I would envision that customer to be very eager to get involved as soon as we get commission approval, although I obviously can’t speak for Google,” he said.

Google welcomed the action.

“We’re very pleased the North Carolina Utilities Commission has approved this new program that will enable customers to buy more renewable energy,” a Google spokesman said. “We look forward to working with Duke Energy and others to find renewable energy projects that can be included in the program in a cost-effective way.”

Facebook interested

Duke says several other companies have expressed interest. According to information filed with the commission, Duke calculates about a dozen customers qualify for the program.

“For others, it’s obviously tied to new load growth in the state,” Newton said. “We certainly hope it is encouraging for others to bring additional jobs to the state of North Carolina because they like the program. It’s essentially a green form of economic development.”

One of the companies that has expressed interest is Facebook, which also has data centers in North Carolina. Bill Weihl, manager of energy efficiency and sustainability at the company, called the pilot “a great start” that should help identify effective ways to use renewable energy sources in the state.

“The ability to purchase renewable energy cost-effectively is important to us,” he says. “The Green Source Rider pilot program should provide some options and help make it easier to purchase renewable energy in North Carolina.”

Greg Andeck, part of the Environmental Defense Funds Smart Power initiative in the Southeast, called the pilot “news for economic development, jobs and the environment in North Carolina.”

In a blog post published Friday, he lamented that the pilot will be open only to large companies that add at least of 1 megawatt of new demand through expansion or relocation and that it offers nothing for residential customers. “Still, the green source program is an important step in providing Duke’s most energy-intensive customers with more options for renewable energy,” he says.

John Downey covers the energy industry and public companies for the Charlotte Business Journal.

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