SEIA – Top 10 Solar States. NC On The Move.

Shell says solar to be #1 source of energy

Solar farms changing minds, landscape in Catawba

Strata Solar’s installation can power 750 homes

By Sharon McBrayer

HICKORY — If you drive by a farm nowadays you’re liable to see a field of solar panels rather than a field of cattle.

That’s the case on Judy and Gary Punch’s farm on Zion Church Road in Hickory. Strata Solar, based in Chapel Hill, finished up its latest solar farm in Catawba County on the Punch farm on Thursday. The company also built a solar farm on NC 16 in Claremont.

The couple leased more than 37 acres on their 130-acre farm to Strata Solar to build the solar farm that will produce enough energy to power an average of 750 homes, according to Strata’s site Superintendent Hardin Mitchell. The solar installation has 26,600 solar panels.

“It was a good opportunity to keep from being so dependent on foreign oil,” Gary Punch said.

It’s also a way to get some income from their property without really disturbing and changing the land, they say. The Punches signed a 20-year least with Strata Solar, Judy Punch said.

The couple raises beef cattle and grows grain crops on their farm.

Judy said she loved the idea that Strata Solar could use the property for the solar farm but it wouldn’t take anything away from the property. She said if they ever want out, the solar could be removed and it would be back to the way it was before. It’s not invasive and doesn’t even require the land to be graded, Judy said.

A lot of farmers are getting too old to work the farm land and a solar farm is a good way to make income and use of their land, said Judy.

Many of those working to install the solar farm are from the local area and it’s one of his best experiences so far, Mitchell said.

“This is one of the best crews we’ve ever assembled,” Mitchell said.

That’s because of the skills the local workers, such as electricians, machine operators and plumbers, bring to the job, Mitchell said. Everyone shared their experience and knowledge with the other workers.

And the enthusiasm for solar energy has become infectious.

Charles Lang, an electrician for Strata Solar, said he was definitely not a solar energy cheerleader before the company hired him. He’s been an electrician for 17 years and his impression was always that solar energy was nothing more than a tax write-off. No way he was convinced that it could ever be a serious source of energy.

That, Lang explains, was just an uneducated opinion.

“Now I’m almost diehard,” Lang said.

Che Holt, who worked on the electrical part of the installation, feels the same.

“I get cold chills over this stuff,” Holt said. “I just love it. I think every house in America should have panels on them.”

Holt admits he doesn’t have solar panels because he rents the place where he lives.

It’s something Ruth Morrison, nearly the only female on the installation crew, dreams about. Morrison, who lives in Statesville, has worked construction for 35 years, never dreaming she would get into the solar business.

“If I ever hit the lottery I plan to build me a log cabin and have it powered by solar energy,” Morrison said.

In addition to the two solar farms Strata Solar has built in Catawba County, Apple is building its second solar farm in Conover. It also a 100-acre solar farm across from its data center in Maiden.