Solar’s rising presence

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 04:59 PM

A few weeks ago on these pages, Mebane Rash of the N. C. Center for Public Policy Research shared a story about a western North Carolina community, Mount Airy, actively embracing solar farms.

Those farms “power the region in many ways — providing energy, jobs, and food,” Rash wrote. The farms she described merged “sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy” – sheep graze happily among the panels, keeping grass in check without mowing. 

Joel Olsen, CEO of the company that runs the farms, “is interested in finding the right urban community in North Carolina to try on solar energy, to welcome him with open arms as Mt. Airy did,” Rash wrote. “I think Durham might be a good fit.”

Well, we’re not sure if it is the sign of stirrings to answer that call, but an Arizona company plans a solar-power array on 50 vacant acres in northern Durham County, near Falls Lake.

Not exactly urban, but close enough to suggest we could be gravitating toward more development.

Solar power, long talked about but relatively little adopted, is gaining increasing attention as more and more people realize the long-term atmospheric damage from generating power with fossil fuels. 

Sunlight Partners, the company developing the new solar farm near Falls Lake, easily overcame the few objections raised before the Board of Adjustment, which approved the array Tuesday. It is developing other arrays around the state. Olsen, the Mount Airy solar farmer, told Rash North Carolina has the potential to generate twice as much solar power as Germany, right now the country most reliant on that energy source.

Perhaps it is a measure of solar’s growing acceptance that billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are throwing their considerable wealth into efforts to derail it.

“The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation's largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy,” the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.  “The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

Encouragingly, Gov. Pat McCrory has been a vocal supporter of solar energy, and that may improve chances the anti-solar efforts make less headway in this state.

Meanwhile, we’ll be watching with interest Sunlight Partners – which will sell its power to Duke Energy – and other efforts, such as Chapel Hill’s exploration of community-financed solar generation.

Durham and Chapel Hill, with their concentration of environmentally sensitive residents, research facilities and universities, and a surging entrepreneurial spirit, would seem to be especially fertile ground to explore and to realize solar power’s potential.

Certainly, if Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy can envision itself as a pioneer in developing this energy resource, we can do the same.  We hope Solar Partners’ project is the harbinger of many more to come.