Numerous business leaders and officials gathered in Mount Airy on Monday for the dedication of a solar farm which will place Surry County on the cutting edge of “clean energy” technology.
Organizers estimate that around 200 people gathered at Mayberry Solar Farm, located on property surrounding the municipal wastewater treatment plant at the south end of town. Around 150 seats were filled with other people standing to observe the opening ceremony for the large-scale solar power operation, the first of its kind in Surry County.
O2 Energies, a company which develops turn-key, ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, worked with the city over the past two years to obtain a lease and right-of-way to start the project on city property. It worked with Surrey Bank and Trust to provide loan financing for the multi-million dollar project. More than 20 local and state businesses were involved with the construction of the solar farm, which will require minimal upkeep now that it is operational. Strata Solar provided engineering, procurement and construction services for the project.
The 1.2 megawatt solar farm consists of rows of solar collectors mounted to the ground and is expected to power around 150 homes. The power generated by the solar panels will go into the Duke Energy grid to power local homes. ElectriCities of North Carolina and Duke Energy will buy the renewable energy credits and electricity generated. The solar panels are placed on around six acres of land at the wastewater treatment plant. The solar farm was up and running last Friday and will be commissioned this week.
Representatives from various partnering businesses and the city were present for the opening ceremony. Surry Community College donated the use of three buses to transport people to the solar farm and back to the winery since there was limited parking at the site.
N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens welcomed guests to the event. She said of the project, “We’re becoming part of the future and that is sustainable energy.”
Joel Olsen, founder and managing director of the company, said, “It will become a beacon for renewable energy growth in this region.”
He spoke to the crowd a little bit about his history, noting that he frequently visited Mount Airy on weekends when he was young. “It was a safe place, and it was a safe time,” remarked Olsen, who said the city really did remind him of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Olsen went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before working in Japan for a few years then in Norway for more than a decade. In both Japan and Europe, he saw that solar energy was booming.
“I knew that was the industry I wanted to be in, and I wanted to come back to the U.S. to do it,” Olsen explained.
Now he manages O2 Energies, which is headquartered in Cornelius and owns other solar projects in the state. Olsen sees a great future for the the renewable energy industry. While other energy sources are increasing in cost, the solar industry is decreasing in cost.
Ken Raber, senior vice president of member services for ElectriCities of NC, spoke at the opening ceremony about how solar projects are innovative and how they are becoming part of Americans’ lives. Owen Smith, managing director of renewable energy for Duke Energy, spoke of how the amount of solar power used by Duke Energy and other companies is growing.
“We see that trend continuing … As we see the prices continuing to decline, we think the role for solar will be very important,” remarked Smith.
John Morrison, chief operating operator for project contractor Strata Solar, said, “This is the forefront of what will be a wave of solar projects.”
He said the benefit of solar energy is that it provides “much more stable and predictable energy prices,” since the price does not really change. He also noted that it is good for the environment.
“We can all feel good for supporting something that has such a benefit for us economically as well as for the environment,” Morrison remarked.
At the close of the ceremony, to demonstrate that the solar farm is operational, speakers and legislators gathered on stage to hook up speakers to the solar farm. The crowd applauded as the solar-powered speakers began broadcasting the theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show.”
People then gathered at Old North State Winery for a reception and to hear further comments from officials. Artwork was on display from students who visited the solar farm through the Reeves Community Center After-School Program.
Martin Collins, community development officer for Mount Airy, said, “It’s an awesome day for Mount Airy … I think it will bring us a lot of attention.”
At the winery, several officials delivered remarks. Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, came to congratulate the companies, as well as Dale Carroll, deputy secretary for the N.C. Department of Commerce. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and N.C. Speaker of the House of Representatives Thom Tillis delivered remarks as well.
Burr said, “This really is an example of the creativity and ingenuity that comes out of this community … This will be a big boost to this region.”
He noted that “the future is going to be very different from the past” and talked about the need for a comprehensive energy plan.
“For the American economy to go forward we have to have predictability of our energy costs,” said Burr.
Foxx said, “We need to be using all kinds of energy sources.”
Tillis said, “We have a wonderful opportunity here to see the way that we go ahead and solve this complex problem. We can come up with a strategy that makes sense.”
He complimented O2 Energies on its courage for making the investment and invited leaders to come to Raleigh to contribute their idea and vision.
People socialized at the winery up until the start of a town hall meeting there with Tillis.