Originally published here on June 8, 2017

The solar reform bill now before the General Assembly would resurrect and expand the Green Source Rider program Duke Energy Carolinas instituted more than three years ago to connect large-scale power users to clean energy resources.

The pilot program ended Dec. 31. It has just three subscribers that have signed on to pay a premium for solar energy provided by independent power producers Duke paired them with.

That pilot, which ultimately was less successful than had been hoped, was limited to “new demand” customers — industrial or large scale commercial customers that were building a new facility or significantly expanding a significant one and needed at least 1 megawatt of additional demand capacity. The renewable energy provided was to be from new, rather than existing, solar projects.

But the new version mandated in the “Competitive Energy Solutions for NC” proposal would allow the program to be expanded to existing facilities. So any large-scale Duke customer with more than a megawatt of demand at a single site — or 5 megawatts at all its N.C. sites — can tap into the program.

University and military

And the program will be offered by both Duke Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress. That covers most of the state. And it will be in effect for five years, the bill says.

“That opens up the program to a whole new group of potential customers,” says Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless. That, he says, should allow it to grow more quickly than the seldom used rider.

The bill would set aside 100 megawatts of that capacity for purchase by the U.S. military and 250 megawatts for the University of North Carolina system.

Those groups must use those set-asides by 2020. If they are not used, they go back into the general pool and can be purchased by any large-scale customer, the bill says.

If those groups do redeem the set-asides, the program would far exceed the totals achieved by the pilot.

Economic development

Wheeless declines to say what discussions were underway with those groups. He says only that both the military and the university had representatives in the long stakeholder discussions that ultimately led to the drafting of the bill. And they wanted set-asides carved out for them in the final bill, indicating their interest, Wheeless says.

The pilot program started in 2013 as part of an economic development package to get Google to build a $600 million expansion to its existing data center in Lenoir.

The program was seen as an economic development tool, Wheeless says. That is why it was originally limited to customers that were building new facilities or significant expansions.

But that ended up being one of the things that limited the appeal. And customers with significant demand in existing facilities wanted to qualify as well.

“We wanted to be responsive to our customers,” Wheeless says, explaining the decision to expand the program.

Other renewables

While the program was limited to new demand, Google and Cisco Systems, with operations in the Research Triangle, signed on in 2015. A third, unnamed company, signed on in 2016. There were no applications pending when the pilot ended at the end of that year.

By then, the Green Source Rider program was already involved in negotiations over the legislation that eventually became the solar bill passed Wednesday by the House and now headed to the Senate.

Because the program was expected to be renewed in legislation, Duke did not pursue renewing the pilot with the N.C. Utilities Commission. But Wheeless says the short lapse should not have any effect on the program.

All of the clean energy provided through the rider to date has been solar power. Wheeless says that is likely to remain the case, because most of the renewable energy produced in the state is solar. But he says the program could contract with large customers to provide power from other renewables.

Duke (NYSE:DUK) is based in Charlotte.