DUK Breaks Ground on 3 N.C. Solar Farms

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Duke Energy Corp.’s (DUK) business division, Duke Energy Renewables, commenced the construction of three utility-scale solar plants in Eastern North Carolina. The power generated from these plants will be sold through long-term power purchase agreements.

SunEnergy1, a solar design, construction and engineering company, will build the photovoltaic ("PV") projects, which are expected to be concluded by the end of 2013. Totaling 30 megawatts (MW) AC, the three plants include the 20 MW Dogwood Solar Power Project in Halifax County near Scotland Neck and a 5 MW solar project each in Bertie County, Windsor and in Pitt County close to Bethel. The one in Bertie County is named Windsor Cooper Hill Solar project while the latter is called Bethel Price Solar.

About 140,000 high-efficiency Virtus II PV modules, comprising a mix of 72-cell 300-watt and 305-watt polycrystalline PV modules, will be supplied by ReneSola Ltd. (SOL) to the three plants.

Besides its 12.5- and 5-MW solar parks in Beaufort County and the 5-MW Murfreesboro Solar Power Project, also in Eastern North Carolina, Duke Energy owns six 1-MW solar farms in the state’s western province.

The new projects will bring Duke Energy Renewables’ overall solar farms to 20 across the U.S. The three solar farms are located in Dominion Resources Inc.’s (D) North Carolina Power service territory. The farms are anticipated to power around 6,000 homes in the state.

The current favorable renewable climate in the U.S., in particular the Obama Climate plan, is prompting diversified utilities like Duke Energy to expand their clean energy asset basket. The company is strategically divesting its non-core assets to strengthen its renewable capacity.

Recently, the company announced its intention to sell several unregulated Midwest assets which will fetch roughly $1.5-$2.0 billion. Besides solar, Duke Energy is investing in wind assets. The company, in Sep 2013, announced that it will construct, own and operate two large-scale wind facilities of 200 MW each in South Texas.

We believe Duke Energy’s green energy expansion efforts will yield lucrative returns in the coming years given the aggressive pro-environment stance in the U.S. However, the government’s failure to reach a consensus regarding the extension of the production tax credit in 2014 is a matter of concern.

Currently, Duke Energy carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). A better-placed utility counterpart is Zacks Ranked #2 (Buy) Alliant Energy Corp. (LNT).

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