North Carolina has morphed into a solar power leader this year

Yes, North Carolina is home to Apple’s two recently finished massive (40 MW total) solar panel farms. But the state also has emerged on its own as a major market for solar. According to the latest report from┬áthe Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research, North Carolina was the third most active solar state in the U.S., trailing only California and Arizona, in the third quarter of 2013.

The state has been expected to have an 80 percent growth in solar farms over 2013. North Carolina had 69 solar system installations in the third quarter, up from 56 in the second quarter.

Apple Solar FarmWhile the state’s power generation mix has long been mostly coal and nuclear, the state’s utilities are starting to take solar much more seriously. That’s partly because of a drop in solar panel prices this year, partly because of a recovering economy, and partly because of a strong state renewable portfolio standard that says utilities need to have 12.5 percent of their electricity coming from clean power by 2020. Two of the biggest utility solar systems built in the third quarter of 2013 in the U.S. were in North Carolina — two 6 MW projects developed by Strata Solar for Progress Energy Carolina.

This week, the state energy regulator — North Carolina Utility Commission — approved Duke Energy’s clean energy buying program, which enables it to sell energy from solar and wind projects to buyers that are willing to pay for it (like the internet companies in the region, Google, Apple, and Facebook). Greenpeace applauded the approval saying it was “good news for North Carolina’s air and its economy” and proof that “Duke is finally starting to listen” to its customers.

All in all a sunny year for North Carolina.