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Strata Building Two More Solar Farms in Charlotte Region

Strata Solar has filed applications with N.C. regulators to build two more 5-megawatt solar farms in the Charlotte region — its second in Lincoln County and its third in Cleveland County.

The Lincoln County project will be in North Brook on 121 acres at N.C. Highway 27 and Hebron Church Road. The installation, called Vale Farm, should be producing energy by the end of the year, Strata says in a filing with the N.C. Utilities Commission.


It will be a companion to the 5-megawatt H Creek Farm that Strata plans for Howards Creek township in Lincoln County. That also will be completed by the end of the year. Each project is expected to cost $22.5 million to build.

Eight registered

The Cleveland County project, called Hutchinson Farm, will be built on 44 acres on Earl Road in Shelby. It is expected to be completed in October and will also cost $22.5 million. Strata has already completed the 5-megawatt Kings Mountain Solar in Kings Mountain, and it plans construction soon on the 5-megawatt Waco Farm, also in Kings Mountain, which is expected begin operation in November.

The Hutchinson Farm and Vale Farm projects bring to eight the number of relatively large farms Chapel Hill-based Strata has applied for permission to build this year. In six of those projects, Strata proposes to sell the power to Duke Energy . State law essentially requires the local utility to buy power produced by any small power project.

But key to most solar projects is finding someone to buy the renewable-energy credits, which utilities use to meet state requirements for the sale of some electricity generated from renewable resources.

Tripling capacity

To date, Strata has reached a deal to sell the credits only for Kings Mountain Solar, which opened in January. It is clearly negotiating with Duke about the possibility of buying the additional project credits as well as the power.

Duke has said it is willing to talk to any potential producers as long as the credits are reasonably priced and meet the needs of the company and its customers. It has been markedly more open to buying credits from solar projects in the last six months to a year as the cost of the projects — and thus the costs of the credits — have come down. But it will not discuss credit purchases until agreements are final.

Strata has not named a buyer for the credits of any of the eight projects it has filed plans for with regulators.

State figures show there was about 50 megawatts of utility-scale solar capacity — larger projects, omitting small residential rooftop installations — operating in North Carolina at the end of 2011. But with projects already in the works, it is possible the state could triple that total by the end of 2012.


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