OK, it's not an earth-shattering deal.

Out in California, utilities likes Southern California Edison and PG&E (NYSE:PCG) have been signing up for big-time solar installations in the hundreds of megawatts. Still, Duke Energy's (NYSE:DUK) solar foray in North Carolina is an important step: The company has proposed to install 20 megawatts of solar distributed generation capacity at a cost of $100 million.

While the federal regulatory environment for solar is far from ideal, Duke's decision to invest in solar is aided by North Carolina's renewable portfolio standard. A similar mechanism is what has driven California to be a leading light in the domestic solar power push, and is also the key reason why companies like First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), and Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) have taken a shine to the U.S. market. North Carolina's target of 0.2% of power generation coming from solar by 2018 is admittedly modest, though, and explains the relatively small commitment by Duke.

Duke, one of the largest power companies (and therefore one of the largest CO2 emitters), isn't sticking its head in the sand when it comes to climate change. The company is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), along with greenies like The Nature Conservancy and industrial heavyweights like Alcoa (NYSE:AA) and DuPont (NYSE:DD). Duke's CEO is an outspoken advocate of cap and trade legislation. The company's moves into solar and wind power demonstrate that Duke is ready to go green, so long as the return on investment is clear. Let's hope that clarity improves in the near future.

Duke is rated a healthy four stars in Motley Fool CAPS. More than 1,000 CAPS players have weighed in on the stock's future performance. What's your call?

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