July 17,2013 - Orange County is finally getting a major league solar farm of its own.
A 5 megawatt solar project is under construction in the rural community of White Cross.
"There's nothing like this here," said Steve Brantley, Orange County's economic development director.
The project, designed and overseen by Strata Solar, will be constructed on an unused tract that had been previously zoned for a trailer park.
Building the White Cross solar farm required clear-cutting 35 acres of woodland, which also provided the project with mounds of mulch to use for erosion control.
"We truly try to minimize it, but there are a lot of trees in North Carolina and sometimes it happens," said Strata Solar spokesman Blair Schooff of the mass mulching. "We'd rather not cut them, but what we are doing, in terms of green energy generation and CO2 offsetting, is a reasonable justification for cutting trees on occasion."
Orange County officials say the White Cross solar farm will displace 4,224 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The White Cross project will begin generating electricity in about three months and will sell the power output to Duke Energy. It will rely on 26,000-plus solar panels and will be capable of powering about 750 homes, officials said.
Strata Solar is also developing a 75-megawatt project in Duplin County.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory made a personal appearance at Strata Solar's Willow Spring solar farm last month to declare June to be Solar Energy Month.
North Carolina's solar projects are driven by policies that offer financial incentives that cut the cost of solar development by more than half.
One of those policies is the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, enacted in 2007. It requires electric utilities to offset retail power sales with clean energy and allows the utilities to charge customers extra for that power if necessary.
Also important is the state tax credit that covers 35 percent of the cost of a solar farms and other renewable projects, up to $2.5 million. A similar federal tax credit lops off another 30 percent of development cost.