Duke Energy is starting a new business to lease solar power facilities to small and medium-sized companies in the Carolinas. Duke Energy Clean Energy Resources will install, own and operate solar panels on site for business customers under 20-year leases.
Duke says the arrangement will help businesses adopt solar without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars up front.
The new unit is part of Duke Energy Renewables, a non-regulated part of the utility that sells renewable energy to businesses.
Duke has asked state regulators for permission to operate in North Carolina. Approval could take several months. A spokesman said the unit is already operating in South Carolina, where no approval was needed.
Duke Energy Clean Energy Resources will build and run solar facilities of up to 1 megawatt of capacity, which Duke says is about 100 times the size of a typical home solar installation. For now, the company isn't offering a similar leased solar service for residential customers, though spokesman Randy Wheeless said that's possible in the future.
"I think we wanted to start where we have some good contacts, and where we know there’s interest," Wheeless said Monday.
Rules for solar leasing were included in House Bill 589, a bill that became law in North Carolina last year. Unlike its main consumer electricity businesses, which are regulated by the state, solar leasing is unregulated. It's an area where Duke will face competition from other solar installers.
One other private company is already in the market. Eagle Solar & Light recently became the first licensed solar leasing company in North Carolina.
Leased solar facilities also can qualify companies for financial assistance through Duke Energy's rebate program, which is also required under the 2017 law.
Duke Energy Renewables already works with large companies like Google and Corning, building large-scale solar and wind farms around the country and selling the power under long-term contracts. Wheeless said this new unit will target smaller companies that want to get into solar, and want solar panels on their roofs or properties.