Duke Energy Carolinas is seeking bids from solar power companies to supply solar panels, electrical equipment and installation services as part of the utility's proposed $100 million North Carolina solar plan.

Starting in early 2009, Duke Energy expects to install electricity-generating photovoltaic solar panels at up to 850 North Carolina sites, including homes, schools, office buildings, shopping malls, warehouses and large manufacturing facilities; both on roofs and on the ground.

Electricity generated through the program would total at least 16MW, enough to power 2,600 homes, after the solar power is converted from direct current to alternating current. The proposal, first announced in June 2008, requires approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission before it can be implemented.

Duke Energy would own and, through contractors, install and maintain the solar panels. The utility would also own the electricity generated, which would be sent to the electricity grid. The company would compensate homeowners, businesses and other entities that offer their roofs or land for the program, based on the size of the installation and amount of electricity generated at any given location.

The solar plan would be Duke Energy’s first large-scale involvement in distributed generation, in which electricity is generated close to customers rather than at large, centralized power plants. Duke Energy will begin installations in early 2009, contingent on regulatory approval. The company proposes to complete all installations by late 2010. Each installation is expected to have an operational life of 20 to 25 years.