O2 Energies, which operates the Mayberry Solar Farm in Mount Airy, staged a planning session Wednesday at Meadowview Middle School which was not only concerned with illumination but education.
O2 President Joel Olsen was upbeat about his firm’s opportunity to help the school system and Surry Community College during the gathering, with the goal of showing how to study technology not for study’s sake, but to show Surry County students how it is put to use.
“The challenge is in logistics. How to get everyone on board and we are here today to kickstart the process,” said Olsen, who later led a tour of the company’s solar farm near the city water treatment plant for school educators, administrators and staff.
One proposed program would be O2 Energies supplying solar panels which students would use to meet a “Grand Challenge” competition where they would find an innovative solution to a problem. In his later talk with Board of Education members staff, teachers and 19 principals at the solar farm, Olsen talked about implementing a solar energy component or focus into school programs as well as the Community College’s offerings.
He told the tour participants some basic facts about the $6 million farm and said the water treatment plant facility can produce what 150 homes will typically consume daily.
“We worked with the city to find a location for our farms,” said Olsen. “They had been trying to find someone to use this property for 20 years but the smell from the (sewer) treatment plant kept anyone from using it. Our facility has no sound, smell or waste. You wouldn’t know it was here.” He pointed out the farm pays taxes and also provides local sheep ranchers.
Olsen explained how the facility, and a similar solar farm it operates near Ararat Rock, use sheep for keeping grass short by grazing. He said since the company uses no herbicides or pesticides on the land the ranchers who use it rent free can sell the sheep to organic meat suppliers at a higher price at the end of the season. He said coyotes have killed nine sheep at the Ararat Rock farm location but protective measures such as using donkeys or an electric fence to protect those sheep are being considered.
He explained to the group that the power produced at the Mayberry Solar Farm is sold to utilities such as Duke Power Co. He also pointed out various design features of the solar panels which are connected in sequence to two, 500-kilowatt inverters where the electricity is changed from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power. He said the overhead power lines which are used to bring power from nuclear and coal plants, the farm and the water treatment facility make a unique destination for children to see how the technology is put to use.
“What we found so exciting about Surry County is it has so much going on,” said Olsen. He said the facility is like a battery, producing electricity and adding it into the power grid for use at anywhere from 15-20 percent less than other conventional power plants. He also said much of America’s electric infrastructure was built after WWII and is in need of upgrades which provides “a unique opportunity” for solar power to be utilized.
“Solar is a source you can look to for a long term rate in addition to other power sources in your mix,” commented Olsen. “Cities can use this when planning on costs.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.