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Duke Energy's small (and growing) bet on solar power

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Duke Energy, once primarily focused on adding wind capacity to its renewable energy quiver, has started snapping up small solar power plants.

Duke Energy has been on a solar power-buying tear in recent weeks. In the past month alone, Duke Energy has purchased five solar power plants, including three in North Carolina and two projects announced this week in Arizona.

Duke purchased the 5-megawatt Ajo Solar Project and the 15-MW Bagdad Solar Project -- the company's first solar farms in Arizona and the western United States -- from Recurrent Energy for an undisclosed price. The Ajo project began it commercial operation in late September; and the Bagdad power plant is expected to come on line by the end of the year, Duke said. Arizona Public Service will buy all of the power from both solar farms under two 25-year power purchase agreements that were originally signed with Recurrent Energy.

It was only three years ago that Duke Energy Renewables, a subsidiary of Duke Energy that has primarily focused on wind power, started building and operating photovoltaic solar projects for commercial business customers. Today, Duke owns nine PV solar power plants (including the Arizona projects) and is building a 5-MW facility in North Carolina.

Duke's total solar capacity (which is about 50 megawatts) lags far behind the 1 gigawatt of wind power it owns. And it's acquisitions are tiny compared to the 550 megawatt solar farm snapped up last week by Warren Buffett's power company MidAmerican Energy Holdings. With solar prices still falling, Duke's relatively small solar power holdings could grow quickly.

Photo: Duke Energy

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure