More than 1,000 white posts cover the roughly 60-acre tract of land that will become Columbus County’s first solar farm.
Developers with Carolina Solar, on behalf of Strata Solar, were so anxious to get started on the project that they agreed to buy-out a farmer’s peanut crop so they could begin sinking the posts into the ground, Columbus county Economic Development Director Gary Lanier said.
In the construction phase the project will employ about 15 to 20 construction workers but once completed the farm will be monitored electronically and remotely via the Durham-based firm’s home office.
Lanier said the operation is expected to generate more than 5 Megawatts of power that will be sold to Duke-Progress Energy.
Once completed the facility will be enclosed in a barbwire fence for security purposes.
The company had planned to locate a solar farm off of Prison Camp Road adjacent to the Columbus County Fairgrounds but wetlands on the property and the encroachment of the fairground’s fairway made it suitable for a smaller operation, Lanier said.
The property was ideal for a solar farm but the site is more suitable for a 4 to 3 megawatt facility, Lanier said company officials told him.
Lanier said they wanted to be “good corporate citizens” and ultimately decided not to build on the property that had been partially leased to the county fair board for years.
“They were not willing to destroy the county fair to build a solar farm,” Lanier said. “that says a lot about Carolina Solar.”
He added the landowner is a “taxpaying citizen” who asked him to show the property to the firm and he did.
Lanier said he hopes that the landowners and fair board can reach on agreement for the group to buy the property at a fair price and a first right of refusal.
“I have no control over what they are willing to pay her for it,” Lanier said, adding that he has not shown the property to any additional companies and had not been asked to at this time.
Lanier said Carolina Solar had spent thousands on the study and property plans near the fairgrounds.
Lanier said the project on Midway Road is one of several other renewable projects that could come to the county.
Columbus Renewable Energy is seeking to locate an electrical cogeneration operation at the county landfill at New Hope. The firm is still vetting additional investors but Lanier said the potential for an operation that will generate 10 mega watts looks positive.
Via a contract with that firm, the county will share in a percentage of profits from that venture and generate jobs, Lanier said.