Person County Solar Park Makes Best Use of Solar Power and Sheep

A new North Carolina solar installation, covering five acres in Person County, features row upon row of ground-mounted solar panels – 3,420 in all – angled toward the sun and fully visible from U.S. Highway 501.

The surprise is not the panels, which will generate 847 megawatt-hours per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 600 tons annually, but the sheep grazing alongside them, keeping the grass trim without fossil-fuels in what is increasingly becoming a “best practice” in landscaping circles. The practice has already been adopted by Cary-based software developer SAS (a Progress Energy “green” energy supplier), in Italy to tend the lawns in city parks, in Maryland by the Highway Administration to trim the verges of roads, and in Vail, Colorado parks as an alternative to herbicides.

The Person County Solar Park, located in the Person County Business and Industrial Center near Roxboro, is regional utility Progress Energy’s approach to meeting the state’s Renewable and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), passed in 2007, which mandates an increasing portion of energy production from renewables, beginning at 3 percent (of retail electricity sales) by 2012, and rising to 6 percent by 2016, 10 percent by 2018 and 12.5 percent by 2021.

The solar park, rated at 650 kilowatts and financed through a tax-advantaged lease from BB&T Equipment Finance Corporation, is owned and operated by Durham-based Carolina Solar Energy LLC, a design-build solar energy company founded in 2004. The energy generated, enough to power about 60 homes, will be bought by Raleigh-based Progress Energy to add to its generation mix to provide for the energy needs of 1.5 million homes and businesses in North and South Carolina, and Florida.

For those interested in how much electricity the panels are actually producing, Carolina Solar Energy will have a Web site providing real-time readouts not merely on generation but on emission’s reduction; that is, how many tons of emissions have been reduced by not relying on Progress Energy’s coal-burning power plants.

For those who say the solar park is a drop in the bucket, in terms of solar farm size, it’s worth noting that Progress Energy also plans a Laurinburg, N.C. solar park rated at 2.3 megawatts, to be built and operated by San Francisco-based MP2 Capital. If approved by the Laurinburg City Council, the project will be Progress Energy’s sixth, and largest, solar project either built or planned.

The utility is also looking at potentially switching about 30 percent of its coal generation to natural gas in the future, including the Cape Fear plant in Chatham County. The utility has two coal-fired plants in Person County – Roxboro and Mayo – which together generate 3,100 megawatts, or about one-third of the power needed to supply Progress Energy’s Carolina customers.

Author: Nate Lew

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Posted in: Solar Energy

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