Solar power is hot.
Across Western North Carolina, a wave of solar projects have been announced over the past few months. The YWCA of Asheville plans to install 30 solar-thermal panels on its roof to heat water for the nonprofit's pool and showers, and in Haywood County, a seven acre "solar farm" featuring more than 3,000 photovoltaic panels is planned for a former landfill site in Canton.
"I think what is striking is both the magnitude and quantity of the projects going on" in the region, says Michael Shore, president of the Black Mountain-based FLS Energy, a key player in the solar-farm project.
Even grander in scale is a project announced recently for the Fletcher Business Park in Henderson County. Billed by the company as the largest installation of solar-thermal heating-and-cooling technology in the world, it will include a 27,000 gallon water tank, 1.5 miles of 4-inch steel piping, and 640 solar panels erected on the 900,000 square foot facility's huge roof. Once home to Steelcase, an office-furniture manufacturer, the giant structure now houses a number of businesses. The vast array is expected to produce 1.5 megawatts of power to heat water for the complex.
As an affordable and viable alternative-energy source, it seems that solar power has arrived.
A number of factors have contributed to shifting solar energy from what many have considered an experimental, fringe phenomenon to a more mainstream energy source. A 2007 state law is pushing utilities in North Carolina to start deriving a specified percentage of their demand through renewable sources or increased energy efficiency (see below). Substantial state and federal tax credits also loom large in the equation. Meanwhile, technological advances, rising energy costs, widespread concern about global warming and creative marketing strategies have all helped illuminate the potential of sun power.
Positioning WNC as a global player
Appalachian Energy, launched just seven years ago in Asheville, started out doing hydroelectric projects. The company and its chief executive, Scott Clark, also worked on a number of other projects, including installing solar-thermal systems at 33 Arby's restaurant locations west of Charlotte. This fall, Appalachian installed 336 photovoltaic panels atop the Jim Barkley Toyota dealership on Brevard Road.
Then last week came the big announcement: The company had been acquired by Vanir Energy, a subsidiary of the Vanir Group of Companies, a large national construction firm. In an interview last week, Clark said the move will boost his firm's goal of creating local jobs. The Fletcher Business Park project, he noted, created an immediate need for more than two dozen workers. And Vanir's entry into North Carolina will trigger a total of $14 million in solar-thermal projects across the state in 2009 alone, according to a company press release. Vanir plans to own and operate the systems it installs, enabling customers to take advantage of the technology without having to make a capital expenditure.