County fertile for solar farming

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

Solar panels on White Post Road began appearing six weeks ago. The Duke Energy Renewables project will be completed by the end of the year. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)

Shawn LeMond is the Santa Claus of eastern North Carolina.
As a project facilitator with Sustainable Energy Community Development Company, he was tasked with finding sites for Duke Renewable Energy to build solar farms.
Farmland in Beaufort County was leased for a 15 megawatt (MW) that may be expanded to 25 MW.
LeMond also recommended land near the airport owned by the city of Washington that is under consideration for a second farm that would generate about 20 MW of solar power.
Duke officials wanted to move into locations east of Highway 95 to have an impact on low-income areas.
LeMond often gets calls from landowners interested in leasing to Duke Energy.
The land has to meet certain criteria to work as a solar farm.
“You look for the electrical system first, then it’s basically a plot with cleared trees,” LeMond said. “We look for agricultural land that is high and dry.”
The White Post Road location was farmland used for growing cotton and soybeans.  LeMond said his clients are not interested in land that hasn’t been cleared.
The property also needs access to three-phase electric power. The systems are used distributing the collected power. LeMond said White Post was ideal because the property was within 1,800 feet of a three-phase line.
ElectriCities will buy the power generated by the new farms. The company is the Washington’s wholesale supplier of power.
Andrew Fusco, director of planning at ElectriCities, said the new source of power would not affect the cost or service to the consumer. Duke will provide a cleaner power source that costs about as much as nuclear or coal power sources.
LeMond said his challenge was two-fold. He had to convince Charlotte power companies to consider rural areas for solar projects then convince municipalities and landowners that solar farms would be a great industry to the area.
“I think a lot of us were comfortable with construction. These folks are still here, but a lot of them are at home,” LeMond said. “This is construction. It’s just not construction of a house.”
SunEnergy1, the project contractor, hired more than 100 people with construction experience to install the solar panels. Contractor Kenny Habul estimated 50 to 60 of his workers were locals.
Soon after the project is completed in December, these workers will most likely be employed for the Airport project.
LeMond commended city manager Josh Kay for being so accommodating to Duke.
“He is one of the main reasons that it’s here,” he said.