Chapel Hill’s Strata Solar to build 100-MW farm in Duplin County

Chapel Hill’s Strata Solar said on Monday that it is finalizing plans for a 100-megawatt, $250 million project in Duplin County that would be eight times larger than anything now operating in North Carolina.

Strata CEO Markus Wilhelm said he’s aiming for construction to begin in the last quarter of 2013, assuming the North Carolina Utilities Commission approves the project, to be located on a single 400-acre farm near Warsaw, about an hour southeast of Raleigh on I-40. Wilhelm said his company will file its application next week.

“I don’t think there’s a 100-megawatt project anywhere on the East Coast,” Wilhelm said Monday afternoon at a small gathering at a smaller Strata solar farm in Chatham County.

He estimated that construction will involve some 400 workers in rural Duplin County.

The goal is to have the complex fully up and running in the fourth quarter of 2014, Wilhelm said.

Several aspects of the project are on the brink of falling into place, he said, including a final commitment from investors, who are waiting for the application to be filed next week. The lead investor is a large U.S. bank that Wilhelm declined to name, which would use its investment to offset large tax liabilities.

He estimated the project’s value at $250 million.

One hundred megawatts is enough to supply 12,000 homes, on average, and about one-tenth the size of one unit at a typical nuclear or gas-fired plant. Solar farms’ output can vary dramatically even from one hour to the next, of course, a contrast with nuclear, gas and coal plants that was underscored Monday afternoon, with full cloud cover driving the Chatham County facility’s output down to about 5 percent of peak.

The state’s largest project now in operation is a 12.5-megawatt solar farm in coastal Beaufort County, which was built by Mooresville, N.C.-based SunEnergy1 and sells to a non-regulated unit of Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) that specializes in renewable energy. SunEnergy1 and Duke have discussed plans to expand that to 20 megawatts.

Wilhelm said the Duplin County facility will supply Duke’s Progress Energy Carolinas subsidiary under a power-purchase agreement due to be signed some time after Strata’s regulatory filing. The project’s sheer size is requiring Strata and Progress to have an entirely new substation built nearby to regulate the voltage of its output.

Strata dramatically outgrew North Carolina’s other solar companies in 2012 and the volume of Strata projects already in Strata’s pipeline played a role in Triangle Business Journal’s decision to name Wilhelm as one of its “10 people to watch” in 2013.

 

Written by Chris Bagley, Triangle Business Journal