Utility-scale Solar development faces new challenges in NC

Economical, structural, and of course ideological:

That means that Duke is now paying Strata only wholesale electricity rates – without the subsidy – for power generated by six Strata solar farms that went online this year. “There is zero rate impact for rate payers,” O’Hara said. “And Duke is locking in a price for 15 years.”

As global solar prices went into a free fall and panel efficiency improved, solar farms became cost-competitive with coal-burning power plants and combined-cycle natural gas plants, two of the cheapest sources for generating electricity. The cost inversion, from priciest to cheapest, hasn’t won over all critics of renewables, but it has shifted their focus to new concerns: that solar panels may be toxic, and that solar farms conflict with agriculture.

That's typical of the anti-renewable, climate-change-denying crowd: When your main argument fizzles, you have to scramble to create a new (misleading) approach. But in their zest to find such, they also reveal their hypocrisy. Environmentalists have been pushing for decades for public officials to recognize the added costs associated with fossil fuel use, from ecological to human health issues, but that has fallen on deaf ears. And now that their "It's too costly!" argument no longer works, they want to create dangers from clean power production? Oh, hell no. As to the economics: Those of us who understood the true goals of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards knew (or hoped) that prices would fall, and with that decline would come a decline in the demand from investors, who would see their profit margins shrink. This wasn't merely part of the plan, it was the plan. And it's working better than we'd imagined. That being said, it appears Duke Energy is doing what all monopolies do, leverage their competition out of the market:

O’Hara said that as recently as 2013, the average substation upgrade cost was $75,000 per solar farm, and not all projects required substation upgrades. This year, he said, upgrade cost estimates have averaged over $300,000 and been as high as $3 million.

“All of these costs are paid by the developer, not the utility or the ratepayers,” O’Hara said. “We will not build the project with a $3 million upgrade cost because it would not be profitable.”

While the average size (kwh output) of Solar farms has increased, that doesn't account for such a huge surge in costs for upgrades. These substations are owned by Duke Energy, and the utility decides how much the upgrade will cost. And when a third-party scraps a plan for a Solar farm project due to these inflated costs, who do you think is going to swoop in later and build their own Solar farm, at probably a fraction of said upgrade cost? Good guess.

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