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Success Stories: Strata Solar CEO Discusses Landmark Project

Markus Wilhelm, founder and CEO of Strata Solar, lead the Chapel Hill-based company in the creation of one of the largest solar farms in North Carolina. On 28 acres in Cleveland County, the Kings Mountain Solar Farm, is comprised of 22,000 panels powering 600 homes. The 5 MW solar farm took about three months to build and created jobs for more than 70 local installers and engineers.

NCSEA's Communications & Government Affairs Specialist, Amneris Solano, spoke with Wilhelm about the company's benchmark project and its success.

Could you discuss how the Kings Mountain Solar Farm makes Strata a force in the industry?

The Kings Mountain project was a real milestone for us and has given us cause to reflect on all that we have achieved as a team in the past three years. Strata Solar’s success is based on four important pillars: Environmental focus, workforce development/job creation, team spirit, and a commitment to unsurpassed quality and value.

Strata Solar is 100% vertically integrated and has all the core competencies in-house: Project Development, Financing, Engineering, Procurement, and Construction. We use only the very best suppliers and rely on our highly trained professionals to get every job done right, on time, and on budget.  Duke Energy, our partner for Kings Mountain made a point to reference these three points about Strata Solar at the Kings Mountain opening ceremony – nothing could have made us happier.

Tell us more about Strata’s work development programs.

A critical part of our mission is to help develop jobs and long-term skills for the communities that are local to our larger projects. By geographically clustering these projects, we can keep our workforce working and earning. We cooperate closely with local workforce development offices to identify construction workers that have been hard hit by the economic downturn.

Our objective is to recruit, train, and put these individuals back in the field in a new industry that has a bright future. One of our key workforce partners is the Raleigh Business and Technology Center that provided us with access to a large pool of highly skilled young workers in the age group of 18 to 25.

Strata has plans to build 10 similar solar farms this year. What’s the secret to the company’s success?

We are able to fully develop, finance, engineer, and build an unlimited amount of projects. For investors we are the equivalent of “one stop shopping”. Being fully integrated eliminates the middleman and keeps costs low and the margins attractive. Our engineering and construction quality is unsurpassed and we deliver every project on time and on budget. Our current pipeline of large-scale projects is actually much larger than previously published and we are expanding rapidly on the West coast and in Canada.

More and more solar power is being recognized as competitive energy resource. Why do you feel that is?

It makes sense.  The installed price has become more competitive making solar an easier choice. The utilities have started to embrace solar energy – working with their consumers on incentive programs while supporting suppliers like Strata to create more availability. The average household has become more educated about their energy supply and they are making their voices heard around the country wanting more clean renewable energy.  This industry has well and truly graduated from wishful thinking to a solid pillar in our economy and a substantial part of the solution to our growing energy demands. NCSEA’s guidance and leadership has paved the way for a company like ours and we are forever grateful for their excellent work and support.

Why do you feel more people are embracing the benefits of solar power?

Energy awareness has become a mainstream topic.  As we all know, our worldwide economy has been based almost exclusively on finite sources of energy to keep it healthy and moving forward.  That’s not a revelation – but it’s something that has become part of our current collective consciousness due to a variety of geo-political reasons.  Because of this, energy security has taken a front seat in the debate about the future health and security of this country.

We are well aware that it’s not just the politicians who can play an active role – it’s all of us.  Whether it’s putting solar panels on your home or business, purchasing LED lights, contributing to NC GreenPower, or writing to your legislature in support of comprehensive energy legislation.  Solar power has a substantial legacy in this mix.  It’s proven technology.  It’s reliable energy.  It’s one of the mainstays of any thoughtful energy strategy moving forward.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about the Kings Mountain project?

We are a young company that has been inspired by many of our so-called solar competitors. There are quite a few excellent solar companies in our state and we feel strongly that our competition is not companies like SEM, Carolina Solar, or Argand Energy.  All quality solar integrators should actually work closer together, under the leadership of NCSEA, to make a small ding in the generation portfolio of our utility partners. Our mission should be to provide a healthy, high quality alternative to coal and other fossil fuels.

We are only at the beginning of a great journey and transformation process; Strata Solar is proud to be a part of the local renewable community and will continue to provide affordable, high quality solar installs for residential, commercial and utility scale customers.