Duke Energy, solar developers make a deal to clear utility-scale solar backlog in Carolinas

Employee installing solar panel

What’s that about compromise, ya say?

Duke Energy announced several agreements with third-party solar developers and industry organizations to create a better interconnection framework to facilitate more utility-scale solar energy in the Carolinas. Let’s take a look and see what these will do.

Agreement No. 1

First, Duke Energy and most of the major solar industry developers in North Carolina and South Carolina have agreed to a defined process and timeline by which a substantial additional amount of solar generation will be interconnected to the Duke Energy distribution system. The list includes:

  • Birdseye Renewable Energy,
  • Carolina Solar Energy LLC
  • Cypress Creek Renewables
  • Pine Gate Renewables
  • Southern Current
  • National Renewable Energy Corp.
  • Strata Solar and Strata Solar Development,
  • DEPCOM Power,
  • Ecoplexus, Inc.

Solar projects totaling several hundred megawatts (MW) will be targeted for completion in 2021 and 2022 (in addition to those projects already in process). The parties also agreed to resolve several long-standing formal and informal interconnection disputes. Two objectives as stated in the agreement:

1. Resolves actual and potential disputes concerning 100+ Final Accounting Reports for older distribution-level solar Interconnection Requests that completed construction from 2018 – 2020

2. Provides a clear path for resolving certain legacy pending distribution-connected Interconnection Requests by facilitating a certain number of additional interconnections according to defined timelines and with the benefit of prospective capping of interconnection costs, while all other pending distributionconnected, utility-scale solar projects will be either entered into the Transitional Cluster Study2 or voluntarily withdrawn.

The parties have filed notice of the settlement with the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) and the Public Service Commission of S.C. (SCPSC) requesting regulatory approval of certain limited waivers necessary to implement the agreement.

“We’re very pleased to have reached this agreement with Duke Energy,” said Steve Levitas, senior vice president for Strategic Initiatives at Pine Gate Renewables, a fully integrated utility-scale solar developer based in Asheville, N.C. “It took a lot of hard work, creativity and good faith by both sides. We look forward to continuing to work with Duke to meet the need for clean energy resources in the Carolinas.”

Agreement No. 2

Duke Energy reached a resolution with the North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association to implement a fundamental change to the interconnection process. This change – commonly referred to as “queue reform” – transitions the interconnection process from analyzing each request one by one to a more efficient process of studying interconnection requests in clusters.

The cluster study method has been adopted by several states and system operators around the nation and provides a more predictable path to interconnection – studying only those projects that are committed to becoming operational within a certain period.

This new study process will eliminate the backlog that was created when “ready” projects were delayed while the utility studied sometimes speculative projects that were in a higher spot in the utility interconnection queue. The result was a slower process for all.

Queue reform has been under development in the Carolinas for more than a year and is the product of a broad stakeholder process that resulted in the consensus approach.

Implementation of queue reform will require approval by the NCUC, SCPSC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also included in the filing was a proposal to provide more certainty regarding future interconnection costs for third parties.

Overall, Duke Energy has more than 3,500 MW of solar capacity connected to its energy grid in the Carolinas – roughly the amount to serve more than 600,000 customers. The company has connected more than 500 solar facilities operated by other companies in the Carolinas.

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