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Duke Energy proposes solar, storage project in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Duke Energy has proposed installing a microgrid, powered by renewable energy, to serve a remote communications tower in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Located atop Mt. Sterling in Haywood County, the proposed project would combine a 10-kilowatt solar installation with a Fluidic 95-kilowatt-hour zinc-air battery at the site and ultimately provide all the energy needs for the tower. The tower is currently served by a single overhead electric line.


Because the tower provides emergency communications for the park, the ability to operate independently from the energy grid is important to park communications.

Details on the proposed project were recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC).

“This project would allow us to take advantage of renewable energy resources to serve a customer’s distinct need in a less expensive and more reliable way,” said Robert Sipes, Duke Energy’s Western North Carolina regional general manager.

If the project is completed as proposed, Duke Energy would disconnect the facility from the energy grid and would no longer need to maintain the existing overhead electric line. About 13 acres of park land currently maintained as a utility corridor could be allowed to return to a natural state.

Duke Energy has conducted a number of innovative microgrid research projects, but this would be the company’s first outside the research realm. A microgrid is a collection of generation sources that operate separately from the energy grid – giving customers greater security and reliability.

As a participant in the Climate Friendly Parks program, Great Smoky Mountains National Park belongs to a network of parks nationwide that are putting climate-friendly behavior at the forefront of sustainability planning.

“Although the National Park Service (NPS) will not make a decision about issuing a Right-of-Way Agreement or authorizing construction of the solar-powered system until National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) compliance are complete, the park is pleased to be considered for this project, which could support the sustainability initiative,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash.

The project is subject to NCUC and NPS approval. If approved, construction could begin in early 2017, with the goal to be operational by the middle of the year.

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