Archive for 2014

Duke Energy Invests Big In Solar

Posted on: September 18th, 2014 by shannonhelm


Duke Energy is investing $500 million in solar power generation in North Carolina.

Three new large-scale solar facilities will be built in Bladen, Wilson, and Duplin Counties. The 65 megawatt facility in Duplin will be the largest solar plant east of the Mississippi.

Due to a state law passed in 2007, Duke and other utilities must source at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

“We choose solar today because solar is the cheapest renewable energy certificate available to us,” said Duke Energy Vice President Rob Caldwell.

Duke’s strategy is to own and operate its own solar energy production by building large-scale facilities. Other states have allowed more power generation to come from individual home solar operations.

“It’s a banner day in North Carolina if you’re a large-scale solar developer and you’re a part of this team,” said Steve Kalland, the director of the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. “I don’t know that we’ve seen anything like this in the eastern part of the United State, anywhere.”

Next year, the Legislature is likely to debate and possibly change many of the renewable energy rules it passed in 2007.

“I would say that North Carolina remains today the leader in the southeast and one of the leaders in the country, at this point, in solar development,” said Kalland. “The big issue to keep an eye on is if we can hold that position. There’s a lot of policy in North Carolina that is up for discussion in the next year.”

Duke’s three new solar power facilities should be up and running by the end of 2015.


Listen to the recorded report from WUNC

Obama pushes energy efficiency, rural solar power

Posted on: September 18th, 2014 by shannonhelm


The Obama administration unveiled a slew of actions Thursday aimed at improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of solar power in homes and businesses, including $68 million in spending.

The White House said the actions would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 300 million metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of 60 million cars’ emissions in a year. They will also save $10 billion in energy costs.
The actions, together with commitments from states, communities, companies and others, are part of President Obama’s second-term push to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change.

They follow other recent efforts to help the solar power industry, including a series of announcements in April to spur solar deployment, a White House-hosted summit on solar power and a May decision to install solar power panels on the White House.

The Department of Agriculture will spend $68 million on 540 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in rural areas, 240 of which are for solar power. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the program, the White House said.

Veterans are also a target of Thursday’s announcements. The Energy Department’s program to train technicians to design and install solar power infrastructure will open programs at up to three military bases this fall.

At the Department of Housing and Urban development, officials will seek to give a boost to renewable energy in affordable housing communities by clarifying that one of its funding programs for economic development can be used for clean energy and energy efficiency projects.

The Energy Department will certify a new set of building codes and propose energy efficiency standards for commercial unit air conditioners, the White House said.

The commitments from outside of the federal government to deploy solar power and improve efficiency “represent more than 35 megawatts of solar deployed — enough energy to power thousands of homes — as well as energy efficiency investments that will lower energy bills for more than 400 million square feet of buildings,” officials said.

Some of the commitments involve installing solar power in communities or at corporate buildings. 3M Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Kimberly-Clark Corp. will give discounts to employees who buy solar equipment.


The Hill

What the Duke Energy project means for Strata Solar and N.C.

Posted on: September 17th, 2014 by shannonhelm

The $500 million, 550-acre, 850,000 solar panel project announced by Duke Energy on Monday will be the biggest solar project in North Carolina – and east of the Mississippi River – but it means more for economic development than for Strata Solar, or the market itself.

John Morrison, vice president of marketing and sales for Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar says it doesn’t change the scale of projects the company will proceed with.
“It’s certainly much, much bigger than what we’ve done historically,” he says. “But we’ll continue in the same vein we’ve been in. We’ll continue to build the sort of solar we’ve been doing here in North Carolina.”
While that means bringing a new solar farm online every 10 days, they tend to be in the range of 5-8 megawatts, powering around 600 homes. The Duke Energy farm will consist of 80 megawatts, enough to power 10,000 homes over the course of a year.

Morrison says it’s mostly about the economic development, creating 300-500 jobs in areas of the state that are rural and where jobs are hard to come by. And while careers are being built, the project won’t elevate North Carolina’s ranking among the top solar states in the nation.

“There are lots of states and regions that recognize the economic development benefit that comes from solar,” says Morrison. “There are other states and regions watching the state, like Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Virginia. I’m sure they’d like to see similar investments. This growth in the state has been in the past three years. Strata Solar is approaching $2 billion in solar investments in North Carolina. I mean, four years ago, nobody would have dreamed that would be possible. But this project won’t change our ranking among other states. It will help us hold our own as solar continues to become cheaper.”


Triangle Business Journal

Duke Energy commits $500 million to N.C. solar power expansion

Posted on: September 17th, 2014 by shannonhelm

Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE:DUK) is making a $500 million commitment to a major expansion of solar power in North Carolina.

The company will acquire and construct three solar facilities — totaling 128 megawatts of capacity — including the largest solar photovoltaic facility east of the Mississippi River. The three facilities will be in Bladen, Duplin and Wilson counties.

Duke also signed power-purchase agreements for five new solar projects in the state, representing 150 megawatts of capacity.

Together, the eight projects will have a capacity of 278 megawatts. The $500 million commitment includes the investment in the three facilities and the value of the five long-term power-purchase contracts.

“This is Duke Energy’s largest single announcement for solar power and represents a 60 percent increase in the amount of solar power for our North Carolina customers,” Rob Caldwell, senior vice president, Distributed Energy Resources, said in a statement Monday morning. “We are bringing large amounts of renewable energy onto our system in the most cost-effective way possible.”

The solar commitments are the result of Charlotte-based Duke’s request for proposals issued in February for new solar capacity. The company says the initiative will help further its commitment to renewable energy, diversify its energy portfolio and meet North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard.

Duke Energy will own the following projects:

  • 65-megawatt Warsaw Solar Facility developed by Strata Solar in Duplin County.
  • 40-megawatt Elm City Solar Facility developed by HelioSage Energy in Wilson County.
  • 23-megawatt Fayetteville Solar Facility developed by Tangent Energy Solutions in Bladen County.

The Warsaw Solar Facility will be the largest solar photovoltaic plant east of the Mississippi River.

“We are very excited to be working with Duke Energy on this tremendous solar project,” said Markus Wilhelm, chief executive officer of Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar. “Three years ago, we celebrated with Duke Energy at the completion of our first 5-megawatt solar farm in Cleveland County — and Strata recently passed the 325-megawatt mark with more than 65 farms generating power in the Southeast. We take a lot of pride in our work, and we are thrilled to be announcing this partnership between Strata Solar and Duke Energy on what will be the largest solar farm on the East Coast.”

Duke Energy will purchase power from these new projects:

  • Innovative Solar Systems’ 48-megawatt plant in Bladen County.
  • FLS Energy’s 48-megawatt plant in Richmond County.
  • Birdseye Renewable Energy’s 20-megawatt plant in Scotland County.
  • Birdseye Renewable Energy’s 19-megawatt plant in Cleveland County.
  • Element Power US’s 15-megawatt plant in Beaufort County.

In addition to those five power-purchase agreements, Duke Energy has signed 33 other agreements in North Carolina in 2014 for projects totaling 109 megawatts of capacity.

Duke’s RFP targeted solar facilities greater than 5 megawatts. The RFP was limited to projects that were in the company’s current transmission and distribution queue.

“We were able to pursue the most promising projects in North Carolina,” Caldwell said. “These will be among the largest solar projects in the state, allowing us to take advantage of greater size and scale.”

For projects Duke will own, the company must obtain approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke will then take ownership of the facilities and be responsible for building and having them in operation by the end of 2015. No utilities commission approval is needed for the company’s power-purchase agreements.


Charlotte Business Journal

New Report and Webinar Highlighting Renewable Energy Tariffs for Large Utility Customers as an Avenue to Greater Solar PV Development

Posted on: September 15th, 2014 by shannonhelm



RALEIGH, NC (September 9, 2014) – Today, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPs), the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center (formerly the N.C. Solar Center) announced the release of “Solar PV Deployment through Renewable Energy Tariffs: An Option for Key Account Customers”.

Many large companies, like Google, have taken an interest in corporate sustainability and are requesting that utilities provide an option for them to opt for renewable energy instead of the utility’s standard power mix. This report examines renewable energy tariffs, a special rate option that is quickly attracting attention as a way to do this.

Renewable energy tariffs, which are seen in 10 states and under consideration in others, allow utilities’ highest energy users to pay a premium in order to obtain power generated from renewable sources. While the cost of renewable energy, and particularly solar PV, is rapidly declining, in many places it is still higher than utilities’ cost for purchasing wholesale energy. By having customers pay a premium for the renewable energy they request under the tariff, utilities can ensure that there is no impact on non-participating customers’ rates.

“Renewable energy tariffs offer a convenient way for large customers to obtain renewable power and can directly encourage additional renewable generation,” said Autumn Proudlove, policy analyst and lead author of the report. “Oftentimes these customers are located in sites not suitable for self-generation or in areas that do not permit third-party power purchase agreements, so these tariff programs provide an opportunity to expand access to renewable energy.”
The report highlights two utilities that have recently begun offering such tariffs, Duke Energy Carolinas and Dominion Virginia Power, and offers key considerations for renewable energy tariff design in order to maximize benefits to solar technology, customers, utilities and the public. These considerations include:

• Location and Siting of Generation: Locally-sited generation is sometimes a draw for large customers to participate in renewable energy tariffs. Siting of generation is also important to utilities in order to maximize grid benefits. This is particularly relevant for solar PV, as it tends to be located at the distribution or sub-transmission level.

• Pricing Approaches: Eliminating Rate Impacts, Benefitting from Solar PV Cost Declines: Renewable energy tariffs are generally designed to minimize or eliminate any rate impact on non-participating customers by charging a premium for renewable energy. However, it is possible to design a program where future premiums are reduced or eliminated as a result of PV cost declines. Reducing premiums in this way would still ensure no rate impact on non-participating customers.

• Flexibility, Customer Input, and Education: Allowing for contract flexibility and customer input adds to the appeal of renewable energy tariffs. Furthermore, educating customers about the different types of renewable energy and allowing customers to choose what type of renewable resource they would like to get their power from may encourage more participants to request that their power comes from solar.

Keeping these considerations in mind, renewable energy tariffs have the potential to drive utility-scale solar PV development while providing a host of benefits to customers and utilities alike. “For utilities and their large customers interested in finding innovative ways to access renewable energy, this report provides a recipe for designing a successful program,” said Steve Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center.


To obtain a full copy of the report, please click here.


To register for a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) webinar (held 9/18/14, 2pm EST), click here.


About the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, advances a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies. It serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through technology demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training. For more information about the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, visit: Twitter: @NCCleanTech


Media Contact: Shannon Helm, N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, 919-423-8340,

Buoyed By Business Deals, Solar Dominates New U.S. Cleantech Jobs

Posted on: September 3rd, 2014 by shannonhelm


A new report from the nonprofit business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) shows that more than 12,500 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the second quarter of this year (Q2’14) – more than double the number of jobs announced in the first quarter.

Solar power generation led all sectors in Q2’14 with more than 5,300 jobs announced. The wind industry posted more than 2,700 jobs, many stemming from projects that qualified for the recently expired production tax credit.

On the next-generation transportation side, electric car manufacturers Tesla and General Motors announced new jobs.

According to E2, the jump in jobs took place despite mixed signals on clean energy policies from Congress, but amidst new confidence about future clean energy growth tied to the recently announced federal Clean Power Plan that’s designed to cut carbon pollution and increase clean energy and energy efficiency.

“Businesses depend on market certainty, and clean energy businesses are no different,” says Jonathan Foster, chief financial officer of Nexant, an energy software services company, and a director of E2′s northern California chapter. “What good policies do – whether it’s AB.32 in California or the new federal Clean Power Plan – is help create market certainty.”

AB.32 requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Passed in 2006, the legislation is considered one of the pillars of energy policy in the U.S. that has led to thepropagation of renewable portfolio standards in general and the rise of solar power as a significant source of power generation – and jobs – in particular.

Announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June, the Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% by 2030. Along the way, the policy is expected to drive growth in energy efficiency and renewable energy, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and saving American businesses and consumers an estimated $37 billion in energy costs.

According to E2’s new report, five solar companies announced significant hiring in the residential sector, expanding their existing workforce in the prime solar markets of Arizona, California, New York and Massachusetts. Each of these states has strong net-metering policies, E2 notes.

Arizona recorded the greatest number of announced jobs in the report. Solar Wind Energy Inc. announced it expects to hire at least 350 permanent jobs for a new project in San Luis, Ariz. This will come as welcome news for the solar sector in the state, which, according to a report from The Solar Foundation, took a hit on jobs last year due to layoffs after the completion of the Solana concentrating solar power plant.

California ranks second in the E2 report, thanks to announcements from the utility-scale solar industry and from 500 new jobs announced by Tesla Motors. Michigan placed third, with GM expected to add as many as 1,400 jobs producing advanced battery technologies.

Down the pike, the E2 report points to a number of developments that are likely to keep the new solar jobs coming. Over 1,000 new jobs are expected as an outgrowth of SolarCity’s $200 million acquisition of solar manufacturer Silevo. As part of the acquisition, SolarCity will build a 1 GW annual production capacity manufacturing facility in Buffalo, N.Y. About 800 new construction jobs are tied to Tenaska’s recently closed deal to build the Imperial Solar Energy Center West Project in Imperial County, Calif.

The top 10 for announced clean energy and clean transportation jobs in Q2’14 are as follows:
1. Arizona
2. California
3. Michigan
4. Utah
5. Massachusetts
6. New York
7. Nevada
8. New Mexico
9. North Dakota
10. North Carolina
For the full E2 jobs report, click here.


Solar Industry Magazine

Funding available for projects reducing transportation-related emissions in NC

Posted on: September 2nd, 2014 by shannonhelm


Third call includes up to $1,300,000 available to award


Raleigh, N.C. – (September 2, 2014) The North Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) at N.C. State University has announced a final request for proposals for over $1,300,000 in federal 2013-2015 funding to award to governments, business, and/or non-profit applicants for transportation technology related emission reduction projects. The Clean Fuel Advanced Technology (CFAT) Project is a three year $6.2 million initiative of the NCCETC funded with federal support from the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT). In addition to providing assistance for emission reduction projects, the CFAT project focuses on activities that include a public education media campaign and developing clean transportation technology and policy training opportunities.


Technology project proposals for this call for projects must be submitted to NCCETC by November 03, 2014.

The CFAT project, supported with federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds, operates in 24 counties that do not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. More than half of North Carolinians live in counties that have unhealthy air, and transportation related emissions are a primary contributor to the state’s air quality problem. Previous  proposal requests, in 2013 and 2014, distributed over $ three million  to 30 public and private entities for a variety of projects including natural gas powered trucks and refueling infrastructure, propane refueling equipment and vehicle conversions, electric vehicle charging stations, on-board telematics equipment and biodiesel refueling equipment. Project managers anticipate an equally wide range of applications through this request, including alternative fuel and hybrid electric vehicles, vehicle conversions and up fits for operation on cleaner-burning propane or natural gas, alternative fuel refueling and electric recharging infrastructure, on-board idle reduction and telematics technology for fuel savings and emission reduction, and emission control retrofits for school buses and other heavy duty diesel vehicles.

Funding assistance is allocated in the form of a reimbursement, which can cover up to 80% of the project cost. In order to be eligible, a project must reduce transportation related emissions within eligible NC counties, with the exception of electric recharging infrastructure which, in accordance with new federal guidelines, can be located anywhere within the state. For education and outreach regarding alternative fuel and fuel conservation technologies and policies, the NC Clean Energy Technology Center has partnered with Triangle J, Centralina, Upper Coastal Plain and Kerr-Tar Councils of Governments, and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council.


Guidelines and applications available by clicking on Incentives & Funding at:


Media Contact: Shannon Helm, N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, 919-423-8340,

Project Contact:   Anne Tazewell, 919-513-7831,


About the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, advances a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies. It serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through technology demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training. For more information about the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, visit:  Twitter: @NCCleanTech

New Report Refocusing the Net Metering Debate on Steps to Enable Solar Cost Reductions

Posted on: August 5th, 2014 by shannonhelm


RALEIGH, NC and BOSTON, MA (August 5, 2014) – Today, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPs), the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center (formerly the N.C. Solar Center) and Meister Consultants Group (MCG) announced the release of  “Rethinking Standby and Fixed Cost Charges: Regulatory & Rate Design Pathways to Deeper Solar PV Cost Reductions”.
In recent years, over 20 states have taken steps to allow (or consider allowing for) new standby and fixed cost charges, with varying degrees of success, and resulting in contentious debates. The report, which includes a comprehensive national status update on state and local net energy metering (NEM) debates, outlines the ways in which solar-specific fees and charges can erase solar-related utility bill savings and derail non-hardware “soft” cost reductions. It concludes by recommending a fairer, more equitable approach that allows utilities to fully recover their costs and allow solar PV to continue to become more cost-effective.
“Recent discussions about solar in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere show that it is possible for utilities and the solar industry to avoid unduly contentious debates and agree on comprehensive approaches that allow solar to thrive and allow utilities to remain a solid long-term investment,” said Jim Kennerly, senior policy analyst and lead author of the report. “The regulatory and rate design pathways we recommend are intended to reframe a divisive debate and focus on constructive ‘win-win’ approaches that let utilities recover their costs and allow critical solar PV cost reductions to continue unabated.”
Overall, the report recommends that stakeholders broaden their focus beyond simply the emergence of solar and consider the varied reasons why utilities aren’t recovering their costs as easily (such as offshoring of manufacturing, continued investments in their infrastructure, sluggish economic growth and a growing number of their customers that use less). To address these challenges, the report recommends that utilities carefully consider a broad-based cost recovery strategy. The three components of this basic strategy are:

  • Revenue decoupling, which allows utilities to better recover their costs and encourage customers to save energy;

  • A “minimum monthly contribution”, which enables utilities to recover a critical degree of revenue from customers who are low- or zero net energy users; and


  • Mandatory time-differentiated (also known as time-of-use) pricing, which provides both solar and non-solar customers with transparent utility cost information (and minimizes a significant cost shift benefitting non-solar customers);


In tandem with the full report, the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center and Meister Consultants Group also released a 4-page executive summary of the report, as well as a separate state- and local-level “status update” for net metering debates in which actual or potential standby and fixed cost charges have played a key role.
“We are honored to work with the Department of Energy by participating in the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, including the development of this report,” said Steve Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center. “As we work toward a Fall 2014 launch of the redesigned Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), this report, and the suite of resources we are releasing with it, underscores our commitment to remaining a national leader in tracking and analyzing clean energy policy, as well as providing unbiased, beneficial technical and policy resources and assistance of the highest quality.”
To obtain copies of the full report, the separate 4-page executive summary and state and local net metering “status report,” please click here.


About the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, advances a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies. It serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through technology demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training. For more information about the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, visit:  Twitter: @NCCleanTech


About Meister Consultants Group

Meister Consultants Group, Inc. (MCG) is an international consulting firm founded on the principle that global best practices can inform even the most localized decisions. Our extensive experience in both U.S. and international business and governmental affairs has made MCG a leader in the rapidly expanding sustainability field. By leveraging our international network of more than 100 consultants, we help our clients anticipate and adapt to the shifting global landscape. MCG specializes in alternative energy, environmental sustainability, international dialogue, and corporate responsibility. With affiliates in the United States, Europe and China, MCG uses innovative problem solving approaches to advise governments, corporations and non-profits on policy development, market strategy, program planning and change management.

N.C. Solar Center changes its name to N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

Posted on: July 15th, 2014 by shannonhelm


                 The new name reflects progress of the expanded clean energy industry



RALEIGH, N.C. (July 15, 2014) – The N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University has changed its name to the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, reaffirming its commitment to expanding support to all areas of clean energy. The Center serves as a resource for innovative, clean energy technologies through demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training.  It also works to break down barriers for clean energy technologies and businesses who want to locate and grow in the state.  Increasingly, North Carolina is recognized nationally and internationally for its growth and authority in clean energy technologies. The Center has been at the forefront of this progress for more than 25 years.

During its evolution, the Center has broadened its technology focus to include wind and biomass; energy efficiency; distributed generation systems like combined heat and power; clean transportation technologies, including natural gas, propane, biofuels and electric vehicles; as well as smart grid and green building technologies.  Over the years, the Center also has also recognized the need to include energy policy and economic development programs.

Today, North Carolina supports more than 15,000 direct jobs at more than 1,000 companies in the clean energy sector. It is the only state in the Southeast with a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. It is known internationally for having the largest smart grid industry cluster in the U.S. and is ranked fifth in the U.S. for clean energy development and second for solar capacity.

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center helps the state’s businesses, policymakers and organizations develop clean energy technology and policy initiatives. To promote economic development, the Center assists businesses by providing information on state regulatory and tax policies, and serves as a connector for other resources. Further, the Center consults with citizens, local governments and organizations to provide clean technology implementation strategies.


About the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, advances a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies. It serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through technology demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training. For more information about the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, visit:  Twitter: @NCCleanTech


Universities in DC make deal with Duke Energy to buy solar power

Posted on: June 24th, 2014 by shannonhelm


WASHINGTON — Two universities in the nation’s capital have agreed to a major energy deal to buy more than half their power from three new solar power farms that will be built in North Carolina, the schools announced Monday night.

George Washington University, American University and the George Washington University Hospital announced the 20-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to reduce their carbon footprints by directly tapping solar energy.

The Capital Partners Solar Project will break ground this summer near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Once fully operational in 2015 with 243,000 solar panels, the three solar farms are expected to generate 123 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Planners said that translates to eliminating about 60,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year or taking 12,500 cars off the road.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, said this is the nation’s largest nonutility solar power purchase. It will also create the largest photovoltaic solar power operation east of the Mississippi River.

“We’ll be directly sourcing our electricity from three solar energy sites,” said George Washington University President Steven Knapp. “We’re not just buying certificates for renewable energy. We’re actually directly sourcing from renewable energy. The impact of that is pretty huge.”

Solar power generated in North Carolina will move into the Washington region’s electrical grid for the universities. An equivalent amount of conventional electricity will be withdrawn from the same electric grid.

The 20-year deal provides fixed pricing for solar energy at a lower price than the schools currently pay for power, thanks in part to its large scale. Over the full 20-year term, university officials are hoping the shift to solar could yield millions of dollars in savings as the cost of conventional power is expected to rise.

George Washington University spent about $13 million last year on electricity, and American University spends about $5 million.

Both universities have been looking for renewable energy sources for several years. At one time, American University considered buying a wind farm. But the deal with Duke Energy Renewables won’t require up-front capital costs for either school. It resulted from a competitive bidding process that included about 28 companies representing both wind and solar power, Knapp said.

American University President Neil Kerwin said the school is pursuing an aggressive goal to become carbon-neutral by the year 2020.

“We felt an institution our size in partnership with one the size of GW could send a pretty strong message about both the feasibility and the wisdom of both the partnership and the move toward renewable sources of energy,” Kerwin said.

Alex Perera, a renewable energy expert at the World Resources Institute, said the university partnership for a large-scale solar-power purchase could provide a model for other schools or large institutions to buy renewable energy directly.

“These kinds of long-term contracts from good-credit buyers can really be helpful to renewable energy developers in helping them get the financing they need to get projects built,” he said. “It also allows buyers to get more value out of renewable energy.”

By BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press