Editorial: Solar farms play key role in energy independence | JournalNow.com

News & Events | Strata Solar, Chapel Hill, NC

NC's new solar trend: 5-megawatt solar farms

– newsobserver.com

A Chapel Hill solar developer said today it plans to build two solar farms in the state, each almost 5 megawatts in power capacity and both ranking as the second-largest solar farms in the state.

At that size, the two planned solar farms announced today by Strata Solar would be among at least five in this state measuring around 5 megawatts that are in some stage of development.

With that many solar farms of nearly identical size, a clear pattern is emerging: 5 megawatts is the new measure for a large industrial-scale solar farm. It replaces the unofficial old standard, which used to be 1 megawatt, a seemingly insurmountable barrier only a few years ago.

“The reason 5 is the new 1 is there are a lot more investors coming into the marketplace,” said John Morrison, chief operating officer at Strata Solar. “It's in the range that's financable.”

That's enough power for about 500 homes on average, when accounting for the fact that solar farms don't generate electricity round-the-clock, but only when the sun is shining.

Another reason for the increasing scale of solar power is the falling price of photovoltaic panels. Morrison said solar panels used to cost about $4 a watt three years ago but now cost about $1.10 a watt and are still falling.

Strata Solar is proposing two 4.975 megawatt solar farms, one in Robeson County and one in Catawba County. If approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission, both would be generating electricity next year.

Strata Solar has previously announced a 4.5-megawatt solar farm in Cleveland County, which is expected to be generating power around Thanksgiving.

A solar farm of that size costs about $20 million to build, Morrison said. However, more than two-thirds of the cost is covered by subsidies, making such projects financially viable.

The subsidies include a 35 percent North Carolina state tax credit, a 30 percent federal tax credit, and premiums utilities pay to meet state renewable energy mandates. The premiums are called renewable energy certificates.

The state's biggest solar farm in Davidson County is 15.5 megawatts, and still blows the competition away.