aThousands of panels are soaking up the winter sunshine as Duke Energy launches its solar rooftops program under North Carolina's new green energy law.
For the first time, in a small but significant step, Duke and Raleigh-based Progress Energy will have to make a smidgen of their electricity this year from the sun.
Energy from other renewable fuels, such as wind, wood wastes and chicken manure, will join the mix in two years. Renewables have to account for 12.5 percent of utility retail sales by 2021.
Renewable-energy mandates like North Carolina's, the first in the Southeast and one of 29 nationwide, won't save consumers money. Duke will add 16 cents a month to residential customers' bills to cover its costs.
Advocates say their value is in prodding utilities and smaller operators to invest in power that pollutes less than the coal that fuels much of the state, leaves no radioactive waste and taps free energy.
Large-scale solar is making its debut across the Piedmont.
Duke's panels are going up atop a Childress Klein Properties industrial building in Charlotte, National Gypsum's wallboard plant in Mount Holly, a Food Lion distribution center in Salisbury and an industrial building in Greensboro. All will be online by April.
Duke will announce more commercial, industrial and residential rooftop sites as the year unfolds. The $50 million program will make 8 megawatts of solar power, enough to supply about 1,300 homes.
Construction is also under way on one of the nation's biggest solar farms, a land-based installation in Davidson County, 50 miles northeast of Charlotte.
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