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Duke Energy to build solar network

Duke Energy Corp. is accepting bids from the burgeoning solar power industry to build a $100 million network meant to turn N.C. rooftops into mini-power plants.

The Charlotte-based utility said it would start with 850 rooftops and ground-level sites that would create electricity to feed the larger power grid. The network would produce about 16 megawatts, or enough electricity for about 2,600 homes, the company said.

Duke plans to begin installation early next year but still needs approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke would own the equipment and electricity produced. And it would pay the home or business owner for the right to use their rooftop and property.

But building the network also would be an initial step toward creating and linking thousands of small power producing sites into much larger networks. This contrasts to the traditional method of relying on large centralized power plants to produce most electricity.

Critics say the solar network is a good idea but that Duke could do much more to produce clean energy and to cut power demand through aggressive energy efficiency programs. Less demand means the utility would have to burn that much less coal, which is blamed as a cause of global warming.

Duke and other utilities say they will need solar networks to meet future energy demand more efficiently as they work to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants. The company uses coal for about 52 percent of its electricity production in the Carolinas.

The utility is required by state law to produce 12.5 percent of its electricity in the North Carolina by 2021 from renewable sources, such as the sun and the wind.

Duke said that companies interested in bidding on the project can visit its renewable energy web page, www.duke-energy.com/environment/renewable-energy.asp, and click on “North Carolina Solar Distributed Generation Program.”

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