Duke Energy Becoming a Force in Clean Energy

Last Updated Jan 27, 2010 4:42 AM EST

Duke Energy, one of the biggest electricity utilities in the United States, hasn't had terribly easy time getting into renewable energy. With most of its territory in the northeast of the country, it's at an immediate disadvantage to a rival in, say, Arizona's sunny deserts, or South Dakota's windy plains.

And some of the company's early attempts at building renewables have drawn criticism, as with its solar arrays in North Carolina, which it had to scale back last year. But there's a business case to be made for renewables, so Duke is figuring out ways to acquire capacity anyway.

Duke's first significant solar plant is in San Antonio, Texas, where the company just announced its acquisition of a 16 megawatt project from Juwi Solar. Rather than using the power itself, a subsidiary, Duke Energy Generation Services, will sell it on to CPS Energy, the local municipal utility.

The goal for Duke is to add 300 to 500MW more in the next three to five years, towards which it also signed a deal last year with China's ENN Group (Juwi, despite the sound of the name, is European). A few individual solar projects, like a planned First Solar field in California's Carrizo Plains, are bigger than that entire total; but overall, it's a very respectable number, and suggests that Duke intends to be seriously engaged in solar within a decade.
Ultimately, though, Duke's solar portfolio will pale in comparison to the wind power it will own -- it already has over 700MW of wind, and some of Duke's territory, particularly where it extends westward through Indiana, is fairly suitable for wind turbines. As with solar Duke is also exploring outside its territory, with projects ranging from a 100MW wind site in Wyoming to the 1,750MW project portfolio it acquired with its buyout of Catamount Energy last year.

Duke is further expanding its ties with China, as well; it was just reported that Duke is working with the Huaneng Group, also in China, to build wind power in the U.S. The project would include transmission, which usually implies a great deal of capacity.