Pushed by internet companies, utility makes progress to sell clean power in North Carolina

Utility Duke Energy has made finally made some progress toward reaching a goal of selling companies clean power in North Carolina. Late on Friday, Duke Energy filed its renewable energy proposal with the state regulator, which will pave the way for the utility to legally work with companies that want to buy clean power from the utility.

The proposal still needs to be approved by the state regulator, but it represents an important first step in how a utility can innovate and push back against a slow moving industry, and the move also shows how internet companies can use their wallets to leverage greener buying options. Both Google (s GOOG) and Apple (s AAPL) have advocated for cleaner power in North Carolina for their huge data centers in region, but North Carolina has long been dominated by coal and nuclear power.

Apple Solar FarmBack in April of this year, Google announced that it was working with Duke Energy on this project, and also called on other utilities to work to offer companies buying large amounts of power, to be able to buy cleaner power options, even for a premium. Duke’s clean power pilot project is called the Green Source Rider. In an announcement Google’s Gary Demasi, Director, Global Infrastructure, said:

We’re happy that Duke has responded to our request for a green energy option for North Carolina. This will provide the opportunity for companies to power more of their operations directly with new renewable energy sources, resulting in a greener grid. It’s our hope that the availability of this Green Source Rider will spur additional development of renewable energy in North Carolina and elsewhere for growing companies like Google.

On Wednesday Greenpeace held an event that dove into the difficulties of internet companies buying clean power from utilities as well as building their own. Apple has built two large solar farms and a fuel cell farm at its facility in Maiden, North Carolina. At the Greenpeace event Google’s Demasi said the industry was very eager to see Duke Energy make this filing. Greenpeace responded to Duke’s filing by saying it was good progress, but that the clean power buying project should be offered to residents and small businesses, too.

That internet companies were able to get Duke Energy to move in such a way represents a breakthrough in how an industry can collectively use its purchasing power to change the landscape.