Solar farm is up, producing energy, jobs, and other benefits – St. Pauls Review
by Paul Terry
The solar farms popping up all over this region have three positive stories to tell, according to Markus Wilhelm, CEO of Strata Solar.
“We have a jobs message. We have an energy message. We have a national security message,” he said recently. “There are many other positives relating to our solar farms, including benefit to area farmers and landowners, spin-off of related industries, and good stewardship of the land we lease or purchase. This is really a win-win-win situation.”
Strata Solar has just completed and placed into commission a 55-acre solar farm known to the Chapel Hill-based company as the Railroad Farm, located on N. Railroad Street here in St. Pauls. The site contains 26,000 silicon solar panels, a mix of 240 and 245-watt panels, that will collect and distribute solar energy to the power grid over the next 30 years. The site will annually produce enough clean energy to power between 700 and 750 local homes.
Wilhelm said that Strata began to look at Robeson and surrounding counties because of interest among farmers and information from utility companies, and that the company has been pleased with its findings. Strata has other solar energy farms in Shannon, Maxton, Robeson County, two in Hoke County and one now under construction in Columbus County in its cluster strategy.
“Land availability was one reason for us looking there,” Wilhelm said. “There was great interest from farmers and landowners and the information we receive from utilities lets us know where the grid needs support. So this has been a concerted effort among Strata, the utility and the landowners. Robeson County has been great and working with Workforce Development has been satisfying. There is labor available, good qualified workers. We hired 150 people from Robeson County in January, including electricians and responders, and they are still with us, rotating from job site to job site. We are adding jobs every week. We have about 400 employees now, and will have about 800 within a year or so.”
Wilhelm also said that one of its equipment suppliers, Schletter Industries of Arizona, decided to build a factory in Shelby, instead of in another state, and add 350 jobs there. Another related business, an aluminum extractor, could add about 200 more jobs for the state, because of the growing number of solar farms.
The Strata Solar farm here is expected to lessen the output of CO2 (carbon dioxide) by 2.5 million pounds, equivalent to taking 3.2 million autos off the road.
“This is safe energy,” Wilhelm said, “no moving parts, no radiation, no environmental damage, no poisonous substances, nothing intrusive, just sand and metal turning sunlight into power. We will simply harvest the sun for the next 30 years. After that, the land can be easily converted back into farmland. The technology we are using is 40 to 50 years old, and we are proud that we are good stewards of the land. We use very little gravel, very little concrete, and all that can be taken up.”
Strata’s Railroad Solar farm was begun in July, finished in August and commissioned this month. Now it is adding jobs, providing safe, sustainable energy, lessening carbon emission, spawning other related industries, while providing income for the landowners whose land is being carefully used and maintained. The future is indeed very bright.