Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Duke Energy’s pilot solar project Blue River Solar Facility comes online Indiana


Thousands of solar panels have been installed along an 8-acre plot in Shelbyville, Indiana, transforming an undeveloped field into a clean energy factory.

The Blue River Solar Facility is the first in Duke Energy Indiana's pilot solar program, which makes clean, renewable energy more accessible to businesses, schools, and nonprofits.

Duke Energy installs, operates, owns, and maintains the system, while customers receive kilowatt-hour and solar renewable energy credit output up to a one-megawatt initial limit.

“The company gets the benefits, including renewable energy credits that go with it,” said Jim Hummel, a Duke Energy renewables manager, “but they don’t have to have that big, upfront capital investment. It’s a lease program.”

In 2019, the utility announced the solar services project. Once enrolled in the program, eligible Indiana customers can connect to the on-site solar system for a monthly fee for the next 20 years.

Toray Resin Co., a plastics manufacturer and Toray Industries subsidiary, was the first to go online.

The Tokyo-based company announced its environmental impact goals a few years ago: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Our primary carbon footprint is attached to the electricity that we consume,” said Scott Hickman, general manager at Toray Resin Co. “But we knew it was going to be very difficult for us to get to a net-zero basis by 2050 if our energy suppliers aren't doing something similar.”

That's where Duke Energy comes in, with its own companywide goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Just as we were trying to figure out how we can take advantage of solar,” said Hickman while adding, “this opportunity to partner with Duke Energy came about.”

The program is big news at Toray, where it will be featured in the winter edition of the company magazine, which is distributed to all 48,000 employees.

“We are starting to see more and more customers that have their own, strong environmental sustainability goals,” said Hummel, who has been with Duke Energy for over 30 years.

The Blue River Solar Facility's construction began in October 2021 and was completed in August 2022. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the project encountered some setbacks, including supply chain issues, material shortages, and workforce disruptions.

Duke Energy Account Executive Rick Smith assisted in navigating the project through these challenges.

"We recognized that we had a unique opportunity to work hand-in-hand with Toray Resin to help power their operations in a sustainable and cost-effective way, while also making progress toward a cleaner energy future,” Smith said.

“As the first of anything, there’s always challenges and hurdles,” Hickman said, “but that is to be expected.”

Jeff Bladen, Duke Energy project manager, oversaw the installation at the Toray site, which included engineering, organizing contractors, and other considerations such as keeping easement distances from railroad tracks and power poles.

The lot is now filled with approximately 2,500 panels, each 6 feet tall, 3 1/2 feet wide, and 1 1/2 inches thick.

“The solar array also helps with the production that we would normally produce from our plant and reduces that load on the grid,” Bladen said. “Plus, they get the clean power to use every day.”

At full capacity, the site would generate up to 900 kilowatts of solar energy to assist in powering operations while also offsetting carbon emissions.

“As the utility, it's our job to listen to what customers need to meet their goals,” Hummel said, “and provide them with products that will help them get there.”