Will the sun set on solar? Regulatory treatment of industry may change economics of solar power

The Robesonian – The future is bright for Robeson County

NC regulators approve 20-megawatt solar project – Charlotte Business Journal

North Carolina regulators have approved Strata Solar’s proposed 20-megawatt solar farm in Mount Olive — the first project that size approved in the state not commissioned by a large utility or outside company.

The large solar farm SunEdison built in Davidson County two years ago — rated at about 17 megawatts — was built for Duke Energy Carolinas. Two 20-megawatt farms proposed in Catawba County are being built for Apple Inc. to offset power used by its large data center there.

A project under construction by Duke Energy Renewables — Duke’s unregulated subsidiary unrelated to its utility operations — in Bath could eventually reach 25 megawatts. But the capacity of the part approved to date is only 12.5 megawatts.

Pushing larger projects

The Mount Olive Farm project was approved by the commission Monday at its staff conference. The written order had not been issued as of Wednesday.

Strata is based in Chapel Hill. The company has been leading the push for larger solar projects in North Carolina.

“We work very hard to drive the costs down, with engineering and construction, financing and development all in house,” says Markus Wilhelm, Strata chief executive. “That makes it possible for us to do projects of this size that are economically feasible.”

Strata is negotiating to sell the power from the project to Progress Energy Carolinas under a long-term agreement. Strata is keeping the construction price and the projected annual sales confidential. But based on Strata’s costs on 5-megawatt projects — which it has disclosed — the total cost is likely to be in the $80 million range. Economies of scale could reduce that price.

Next in line

Strata plans to build Mount Olive Farm by the end of 2013.

It has plans to build one 20-megawatt project before that — in Robeson County — called Railroad Farm 2.

That one is scheduled to be in operation by the end of April. But it is not as far along in the approval process as the Mount Olive project. In June, Strata proposed building Railroad Farm 2 as a 5-megawatt project. Then in October, it shifted to proposing a 20-megawatt project for the site.

The Mount Olive project was proposed in August — at 20 megawatts — and so has completed the approval process.

The trend in North Carolinas has clearly been toward larger projects. In recent weeks, for instance, a New Jersey company has filed for permission to build two 20-megawatt projects and a 16-megawatt project in the state.

Strata, meanwhile, is looking to expand its development activities outside of North Carolina. It is working on solar projects in South Carolina, Tennessee and as far away as California.

via NC regulators approve 20-megawatt solar project – Charlotte Business Journal.