One of the largest solar farms in the Southeast is currently under construction right here in Western North Carolina. It is expected that the output of the 3,288 SunPower photovoltaic panels will generate 1.6 million kilowatt-hours per year, or enough energy for more than 1,100 homes. The site for the 1 megawatt solar farm is Evergreen Packaging’s old landfill (formerly Blue Ridge Paper), located in Haywood County.
The seven-acre site is a great place for a large-scale solar array because—as a landfill site—no trees, crops or significant vegetation are allowed to grow there. Evergreen has agreed to lease the property to FLS Energy for the next 20 years, converting the largely unusable landfill area into something that will create a public benefit.
Hardy LeGwin of FLS Energy is the lead designer for the project. He says that the magnitude of this solar farm is both its greatest challenge and its reward. “The finished site will look like a scene out of Star Wars, as more than 3,000 solar panels track the sun each day. Any design challenges are far outweighed by the opportunity to take the solar sector a quantum leap forward toward making solar energy mainstream.”
Just a few years ago, a solar project of this scale was hardly conceivable for North Carolina. But opinions in N.C. shifted due to the combination of rising electricity costs, incentives to promote solar (including federal and state tax incentives), the need to reduce global-warming pollution, and a public desire for clean energy and energy independence. The passage of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard for N.C. has driven utilities to look for ways to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewable energy—such as wind, solar and biomass—from less than the current 1 percent to 12.5 percent by the year 2021. As part of that effort, Progress Energy issued a request for proposals for solar-energy generation, from which FLS Energy’s plan ultimately was awarded. Progress Energy has committed to purchasing all of the electricity generated at the site for the next two decades.
Michael Shore of FLS Energy attributes the successful implementation of the project to several factors, including “increased fossil fuel costs, change in intention and diversification of energy portfolios of utility companies, public interest in solar and decreasing costs for panels—thanks to an increase in silicon supplies and an increase in the efficiency of photovoltaic technologies.” The financial viability of large solar projects of this kind are also helped by new financing models, such as the one being used by FLS Energy: The company will retain ownership of the system and simply sell the energy, thereby reducing the upfront cost for building owners and utilities.
In addition to the environmental and energy security benefits, this project and others like it will supply the area with good-paying green job opportunities. The system is expected to be completed and on line just in time for Independence Day 2009.
Matt Siegel is director of the WNC Green Building Council. He can be reached at or at (828) 254-1995. Michael Shore is president of FLS Energy.