A 75-megawatt solar farm proposed in the Antioch community cleared state regulatory hurdles but still has requirements to meet under the Wilkes County High Impact Land Use Ordinance.
The N.C. Utilities Commission granted Charlotte-based Wilkes Solar LLC a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project in September after state agencies reviewed and okayed plans for the solar farm. Wilkes County Manager John Yates reviewed the plans on behalf of High Country Council of Governments.
Wilkes Solar said the facility is expected to cost $85 million to build and have a service life of 35 years, according to commission records. It will consist of an estimated 195,198 solar panels.
Commission records list 502 Robin Hill Road, North Wilkesboro (off Speedway Road) as the project’s address and say it will be on parts of 12 parcels totaling 1,014 acres leased or purchased. A project spokesman said about 600 acres will actually be used.
The records say Charlotte-based Solterra Partners LLC was the actual initial owner of the proposed solar farm, with Dennis A. Richter of Charlotte as registered agent of Wilkes Solar and Solterra Partners.
The current owner is New York, N.Y.-based DESRI Wilkes Solar Development LLC, according to an Oct. 30 filing with the commission.
The project spokesman said Thursday that options for leasing or buying the land needed have been obtained and “the project is still in development.” The spokesman said construction is planned to start by 2022, with a goal of starting operations by late 2022 or early 2023.
Under the Wilkes County High Impact Land Use (HILU) Ordinance, solar farms and certain other land uses need an Intent to Construct HILU permit before construction can start. The Wilkes Planning Department issued this to Wilkes Solar in March, indicating the plans met requirements of the ordinance.
Wilkes Planning Department Director Eddie Barnes said Wilkes Solar hasn’t applied for nor received the Operational HILU permit it needs to begin generating electricity. Under the ordinance, an Intent to Construct HILU permit is valid for a year and the operational permit can’t be issued by the planning department if it isn’t still valid.
Among other requirements, the ordinance says a solar energy farm or other identified high impact land use can’t be within 1,000 feet of an occupied home, educational facility, church or other “protected facility.” The 1,000 feet is measured from the center point of the property in question.
Utilities commission records show the 12 parcels include portions of eight to be leased, including part of the 524.50-acre Critcher Brothers Produce Inc. tract bordering Antioch Church Road near Antioch Baptist Church on the east and Robin Hill Road on the south.
About 207 of the 1,014 acres will be purchased, including the 164-acre Sale Land & Timber LLC tract adjoining the northern side of the Critcher Brothers tract and two nearby smaller parcels to provide access from Old Highway 60 on the north.
Adjoining the eastern side of the Sale tract are 76 acres owned by Duke Energy with an electrical substation and the intersection of two transmission lines. It is reached from Antioch Church Road, thus providing the Wilkes Solar project nearby access to the electrical grid.
Adjoining the western side of the Sale property is a 1.93-acre Duke Energy parcel that encompasses the end of Shew Ridge Mission Road.
In 2017, Wyoming-based Strom Energy (subsidiary of Florida-based Glauben Besitz LLC) filed an application with the commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a $39 million, 20-megawatt solar farm on the 164-acre Sale tract. The project never materialized, but it was to be accessed via Shew Ridge Mission Road.
Duke Energy signed a power purchase agreement with Wilkes Solar for buying the proposed solar farm’s entire electricity output for 20 years, said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless. This will be added to the electrical grid and should be enough to power about 15,000 homes, he added.
Wheeless said the 20-year power purchase agreement was arranged under the N.C. Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy Program. This bidding process, established by 2017 state legislation, considers cost-effectiveness of projects.
Wheeless said the 20-year period starts when the new solar farm begins producing electricity. At the end of the 20 years, he said, “the contract can be renewed for some period of time if both parties agree. Or, the site would be decommissioned, with panels and racking all recycled, and the land returned to a cleared state.”
Although the proposed project in the Antioch community would be among the largest solar farms in the state, Wheeless said more 75-megawatt and larger solar farms are being constructed because of the advantages of economies of scale.