Renewable Energy Becomes a Utility Lifeline

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When North Carolina Republicans brought forward a bill pushed by ALEC, the conservative lobbying group, to gut the state's renewable energy standards this year, they figured they had a model piece of pro-business legislation that would sail through.

But, as North American Windpower gleefully reported, it died in committee.

Key to the story is the committee where it died, public utilities and energy. It died there because the state's electrical utilities, mainly Duke Energy ( DUK), which bought out rival Progress Energy last year, didn't support it, despite the fact that the bill's prime sponsor formerly worked there.

What happened?

Duke has found out how to make money with renewables. Its non-regulated Duke Energy Renewables unit plans to double production from wind, solar and biomass projects this decade. Big customers including Google ( GOOG) and Apple ( AAPL), both of which have large data centers in the state, are supporting a new green energy rate, reports the Charlotte Business Journal.

It turns out solar and wind projects offer big advantages to electric utility companies. They can get a premium rate for solar power, whose supply peaks in the afternoon alongside the higher load of air conditioning. They can make a big profit from homes and businesses that install panels, paying off-peak rates for the same power.

Even the additional storage capacity needed to deal with such projects can become a profit center. A Department of Energy rule called FERC 890 effectively doubles the value of storage projects, which the agency lists at its site.

Imre Gyuk, program manager for energy storage research at the Department of Energy, said in a recent Atlanta talk that there were 686 Mwatts of storage capacity online around the world as of March. He estimated that for every five watts of power available, one watt of storage is necessary to assure the stability needed by modern cloud data centers. But there is over 300 Gwatts of continuous load throughout the U.S. grid alone. The opportunity, in short, has barely been touched.

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