Plans filed for another Durham County solar farm

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 06:37 PM

A Chapel Hill company that’s on a solar development blitz in North Carolina could be adding to its solar cache with a new array in Durham County.

Strata Solar is North Carolina’s leading solar project developer, according to a second-quarter solar industry analysis by NPD Solarbuzz.

The company completed almost 100 megawatts’ worth of projects in the year that ended in June, according to the report.

And the company, founded in 2009, has plans to add more than 190 megawatts to its overall output this year, according to company spokesman Blair Schooff.

On the list could be projects in Durham and Chatham counties, according to planning documents and information from a consultant working on a proposal for a mixed-use development in Chatham County.

If the projects move forward, they would be additions to a handful of other solar farms that Strata has developed in the Triangle. The company is bringing a 6-megawatt project online in Orange County on 35 acres capable of powering the equivalent about 750 homes, according to a new release from Orange County.

In addition, Schooff said Strata also developed a 6.4-megawatt project in Fuquay-Varina in Wake County and a 1-megawatt project at its warehouse in Chapel Hill.

Philip Culpepper, a consulting planner who’s working on a proposal for a new mixed-use development called Chatham Park in Chatham County, said the details of a lease are being finalized with Strata for an approximately 20-megawatt solar array to be developed in Chatham Park.

Targeted for about 7,100 acres on the eastern side of Pittsboro, Chatham Park is proposed to include new residential construction, an “emerging technology park” and other commercial development. It would potentially add more than 50,000 people to the area. The developers are seeking a rezoning to move the project forward.

“We believe that this solar farm sets a standard for the type of development that will be Chatham Park,” Culpepper said in an email of the proposed solar project.

In addition, plans have been filed with Durham City-County Planning for a project on Bacon Road in northern Durham County. Schooff declined to comment on the project.

According to the NPD Solarbuzz, North Carolina’s solar photovoltaic market is projected to grow 80 percent year-over-year for a total of 285 megawatts’ worth of projects in 2013. Next year, the state is expected to see 30 percent of additional growth.

North Carolina ranked second in the second quarter for new solar photovoltaic capacity added in the period. California led the way, taking up about 53 percent of the capacity added. North Carolina followed with 8 percent.

Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy, said the utility has seen growth in solar power generation in North and South Carolina from 10 megawatts in the system in 2008 to more than 200 megawatts now.

“That’s a pretty steady increase that we’ve seen in just five years,” Brooks said, citing lower solar technology costs as well as federal and state incentives as drivers of growth.

Incentives for solar include a federal tax credit as well as a state tax credit in North Carolina for 35 percent of the cost of a project, up to $2.5 million per installation. That credit is set to expire in 2015.

In addition, North Carolina has set a target requiring electric utilities in the state to use a combination of renewable resources and energy efficiency measures to meet 12.5 percent of electricity demand by 2021.

Brooks said Duke Energy met a requirement last year for the utility to meet 3 percent of retail sales with generation from renewable energy sources or through energy efficiency savings. He called the 12.5 percent requirement the “final, big milestone,” and said the utility is “on track” to meet that goal.

“We’re constantly having discussions with developers and evaluating potential projects out there to help us reach that compliance,” he said.

Michael Barker, a senior analyst with NPD Solarbuzz, said in an email that demand for solar photovoltaic power generation this year and beyond is “still being driven” by the state’s renewable energy generation target.

Across the nation, he said solar growth is being driven by falling solar photovoltaic installed system prices, a stable federal tax credit, state-level renewable portfolio standards, and increasingly competitiveness with retail electricity tariffs.