No one’s using terms such as “solar capital” to describe Mount Airy — yet — but plans for an expanding local operation now include a new facility to dwarf an existing solar farm which opened recently.
“We are working on our second project in Surry County, and it will be a much larger project,” said Joel Olsen, founder and managing director of O2 Energies, developer of a 1.2-megawatt solar-energy facility near the Mount Airy Wastewater Treatment Plant.
O2 Energies’ latest venture, identified as Ararat Rock Solar LLC, will be a 4.4-megawatt facility, “roughly four times the size of Mayberry Solar Farm,” Olsen added Wednesday of an entity that began operations in the fall. “That will power hundreds of homes and businesses in the area.”
Other expansions are also in the works, according to the solar developer. “Going forward, we expect to grow several times this year,” Olsen said.
In terms of jobs, “we foresee that work will be created for local contractors,” added Olsen, who saw the potential for energy gleaned from the sun while working in Japan and Europe and has sought to spread its use in the U.S. “Up to 100 different people will have work created by this project.”
Along with construction jobs, another benefit will be increasing the presence of a “green” and clean energy source in the area, which is to be sold to Duke Energy and fed directly onto the regular power grid.
Plans call for Ararat Rock Solar to occupy a site of about 25 acres on Quarry Road just south of the city limits in the vicinity of a stone quarry.
Martin Collins, Mount Airy’s community-development coordinator — who worked closely with O2 Energies to make Mayberry Solar Farm a reality — said the latest development is “welcome” news.
“Well, I think it’s exciting that O2 Energies had a successful experience here and they’d like to expand here,” Collins said. “I’d say it’s very welcome” by the city and county.
The community-development coordinator said he was aware that the firm based in the Charlotte area had been continuing a search for potential sites to accommodate other solar projects in addition to Mayberry Solar. Its success reportedly has included 10 percent more energy being generated during January than anticipated.
Suitable sites for further solar developments include those largely off the beaten path where land is not commercially or industrially valuable and also isn’t being use for much else, Collins said.
That seems to fit the Ararat Rock Solar situation, with Olsen pointing out that the Quarry Road property’s different uses over the years have included growing feed corn.
The presence of the solar farm will not disrupt the quarry operations or the appearance of the area, according to Olsen. Unless someone knew it was there, they would likely not see the facility after it’s built, he said.
“When I look at the one down at the wastewater-treatment plant,” Collins agreed of Mayberry Solar and its rows of collectors, “it looks pretty passive.”
From consumers’ standpoint, he believes solar energy growth represents a desirable alternative to such sources as No. 2 fuel oil, natural gas and coal.
Collins said solar development can utilize land now sitting empty, with the expansion to other sites locally limited mainly by the ability to secure funding for new projects.
Olsen mentioned that one element which made Mayberry Solar Farm a reality was the willingness of a community bank, Surrey Bank and Trust, to provide financing for the multimillion-dollar effort in its home area.
As part of the plans for Ararat Rock Solar, an application for a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” has been filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission. State law requires such a certificate before construction or renovation of an electrical generating facility can occur, unless the facility’s capacity is under 2 megawatts.
A notice of this requirement will soon be published in an area newspaper, informing citizens that they may file complaints about the planned solar farm. If any complaints are received during a specified period, the Utilities Commission will schedule a public hearing to determine whether the certificate will be granted.
Should no complaint be filed, and the state agency itself does not see fit to conduct a hearing, the certificate will be awarded.
Persons wishing to lodge complaints can submit written statements to that effect. The address for the primary recipient of these is Chief Clerk, N.C. Utilities Commission, 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-4325. Such statements should reference Docket No. SP-1606, Sub 0.
Details of the solar firm’s application to the commission can be obtained from the same address or the commission’s website at www.ncuc.net.
Olsen does not anticipate any problems gaining the certificate.
He expects work on the new facility to begin in the April-May time frame and be completed in September.
The O2 Energies official said the success of Mayberry Solar Farm laid the groundwork for similar future endeavors.
“We had a very good experience working with Surry County contractors and local governments,” Olsen said. “We learned a lot.”
Along with generating work for local contractors, they otherwise will benefit from the firm’s expansion.
“This is the second project we’ve had in Surry County and it gives contractors, who’ve never had a chance to work on a solar project before, experience,” Olsen said. “This is experience that will allow them to work on these types of projects across the state.”
He also said the solar industry will continue to give Mount Airy positive exposure in the world of commerce. “We believe this helps bring additional attention to the city and county, which can help with efforts to recruit new industries,” Olsen explained.
This area already boasts plenty of clean water and air, and will be able to add clean energy to the list, he said.
“It’s kind of exciting to see them grow,” Collins, the city community-development coordinator, said of O2 Energies’ expansion.
If they can continue to build solar-energy production in Surry County, he said, “more power to them.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.