Cover Story: "Mini" solar power plants in NC

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Solar energy could be coming to your home.  Duke Energy rolling out a first-of-its kind program to capture energy from the sun using homeowners' rooftops.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson explains in our Cover Story.

Imagine your home as a mini power plant.. producing energy from the sun!

Duke Energy's plan, which got the green light from the state this week, calls for putting solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses in North Carolina to supply the power grid.

Duke says it's a wave of the future.

Sean Durkin tries to be green.  He recycles, drives a hybrid, is conscious of his carbon footprint.

So when he heard about Duke Energy's initiative to put solar panels on homeowner's roofs, he didn't hesitate.  He signed up.

"If I can contribute somehow to getting rid of widely considered the dirtiest fuel.. I'm doing something," says Durkin.

He's talking of course about coal, derided this week by protesters outside Duke Energy's headquarters during the company's annual stockholders meeting.

A fossil fuel that supplies 50% of Duke's energy in the Carolinas, and coming under increasing criticism nationwide for helping contribute to climate change.

Duke is leading the way among utilities to go solar with a long-range goal to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

"We think it's important to diversify our fuel mix from some of the traditional fuel to renewable and alternative energy," says Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni.

Starting next year.. North Carolina's requiring all utilities to begin working in the mix alternatives like wind and solar.

With a goal by 2021 to be getting 12.5% of their energy through renewables.

To get there-- Duke Energy's agreed to buy power from a solar farm.. that'll be constructed on this land in Davidson county.. construction starts later this year.

And according to Duke's Dave Scanzoni.. a second program working with homeowners and business willing to rent out their rooftops.. as solar energy receiving sites.

He says, "We've had a large amount interest from homeowners and business owners over the last year since we originally proposed the program.  Each of these little sites can be thought of as mini power plants."

Duke pays for the panels, installs and maintains them and gets the energy.. transferring it to its power grid.

The homeowner in exchange gets a small fee for rent.

Total energy produced from the rooftop solar program.. 8 megawatts.. enough to supply 13-hundred homes.

A tiny bit compared to a huge nuclear plant..

Still says Sean Durkin.. it's a start and it's clean energy.  "It's the right thing to do and if I can help and I want to be part of the movement. I don't have the silver bullet.. I want to contribute whatever way I can. If everyone tried a little bit.. we'd be a lot further ahead."

He hasn't heard if he'll be chosen.. Duke's still working out details.

It needs 400 sites.. homes and businesses in its territory in NC..

They have enough signed up.. but if you'd like to toss your hat in the ring go to look under ALL ACCESS we have a link to Duke's website.  Duke hopes to start installing this fall.

What's the program cost and who's paying for it?

Cost is $50-million and it'll be passed on to you and me.. the ratepayers.. just like building a power plant would be.

Rate will be determined by the state..likely to be about 8-cents a month more on your bill.