CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Duke Energy's residential customers in North Carolina will pay 20 cents more a month to pay for the utility's foray into solar power.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved the increase Tuesday to let Duke recoup its 2010 costs under the state's renewable-energy law. The law makes utilities produce increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources and energy efficiency, starting last year with solar power.

The initial solar target was tiny -- 0.02 percent of Duke's total retail sales for the previous year, rising ten-fold by 2018. The law lets utilities recover their costs of complying with the law, and that's what Tuesday's order did. Those costs will add 47 cents a month to residential bills, beginning Sept. 1 (up from the current 27 cents). Commercial customers will pay $2.36 a month, industries $26.07.

The way Duke went about satisfying the solar mandate didn't sit well with some critics, who have said Duke's dependence on one huge solar farm and utility-owned rooftop arrays did little to help local solar companies grow.

Duke installed the rooftop systems at 25 businesses and homes, and bought power and renewable-energy certificates, or RECs, from SunEdison's big solar farm in Davidson County. It also bought RECs, which each represent 1 megawatt-hour of clean energy, from in-state and out-of-state solar generators. Duke accumulated so much solar power, in fact, that it will satisfy the full solar mandate law to 2018.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, which represents renewable-energy companies, objected. As costs fall, it argued, utilities could likely meet the state mandate more cheaply by buying solar power from others than by generating it themselves, as Duke has done in part.

The commission disagreed, noting that it had already approved the Duke-owned rooftop program. It's not appropriate, the order added, for the commission to address future projects now.

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