Duke Energy officials and some solar industry supporters see hope for resolving grid connection disputes between them. But complaints filed with regulators against Duke’s two utilities this week argue otherwise.
Ecoplexus, a San Francisco-based solar developer, has 210 megawatts worth of projects built or under construction in North Carolina.
It accuses Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas of violating state requirements for processing projects through the “interconnection queue” for connection to the grid and failing its obligations under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act.
Ecoplexus executives declined to be interviewed for this article.
Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless says Duke lawyers are still reviewing the complaints. But he says generally that Duke (NYSE: DUK) is “working with developers as much as possible.” And he says there are 500 projects in the interconnection queue, so it is not surprising that “some projects are not moving as fast as developers want them to.”
The two complaints, one against each utility, are filed on behalf of five projects total. That is more than a quarter of the 19 projects Ecoplexus has in the queue.
The suits are similar to two filed last fall and withdrawn this spring by Cornelius-based O2 EMC. They involve new grid connection requirements and policies instituted unilaterally by Duke starting last summer.
O2 CEO Joel Olsen said when he withdrew his complaints that there were signs of Duke moving projects through the queue again. That was after new grid connection agreements were essentially halted for several months, he said. But he added that the signs were preliminary.
A bill in the General Assembly aimed at changing the current regime of solar regulations and instituting a competitive bidding system for new solar construction would tackle several issues between Duke and solar developers. It does not address the queue issues directly. But many in the industry have said that with Duke and developers talking again, it appears that those issues could be resolved.
This week, Sean Gallagher, of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said there was reason to hope that Duke wold open up the pipeline and allow connection agreements to what could be a record amount of new solar as relationships with developers appear to improve.
The filings by Ecoplexus indicate that, at least for some developers, the problems remain.
John Downey covers the energy industry and public companies for the Charlotte Business Journal.