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Company proposes solar farm in southern Forsyth Co.

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The proposed facility in Forsyth County will consist of 26,000 photovoltaic modules and six 750-kilowatt inverters. (Walt Unks/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Forsyth County may be getting its first major solar farm if a Chapel Hill company with a growing state presence gains regulatory approval.

Strata Solar LLC said in a legal filing Friday that it wants permission to build a 5-megawatt solar farm on the south side of West Clemmonsville Road, west of Ebert Road.

The land is mostly undeveloped, although there is a small retail presence nearby at the roads’ intersection.

Strata has applied for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the N.C. Utilities Commission, with the goal of beginning operations in May. Strata did not list a project cost, citing confidentiality agreements.

Michael Cohen, a corporate agent for Strata, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Strata has established a limited liability company, South Winston Farm LLC, which would own the proposed facility. The company has entered land leases with Harold and Iva Stinson, Diane McGee and Stanley Bingham.

The commission would hold a public hearing on the project if a complaint is filed by Dec. 30.

The impetus for building solar farms in North Carolina comes from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires public utilities to have the equivalent of 6 percent of their retail sales come from renewable energy and energy-efficient sources by 2015. That’s up from 3 percent now.

That requirement jumps to 10 percent in 2018 and 12.5 percent in 2021. Strata plans to sell the energy generated at the site to Duke Energy Carolinas LLC on a 15-year agreement.

The proposed facility will consist of 26,000 photovoltaic modules and six 750-kilowatt inverters. The company said it expects to need a soil and erosion-control permit from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

From looking at Strata’s website, the company focuses on solar farms between 5 and 7 megawatts. By comparison, the proposed Forsyth facility would be about 30 percent of the size of the 17-megawatt solar farm in Linwood in Davidson County.

The bulk of the 39 N.C. facilities Strata has built or has under construction are in rural or suburban counties, with Forsyth appearing to be its first identified project in an urban county. Most solar farms have been placed in rural areas, particularly on farmland, because land costs are lower than in urban areas.

Strata Solar operates a 6.4-megawatt site in Mocksville, where it is doing business as Mocksville Farm LLC at the 30-acre site off Eaton Road. It also lists a 1-megawatt site in Mount Airy and a 901-kilowatt site in Avery County.

It is trying to gain regulatory approval for two solar farms in Yadkin County, both of which faced formal opposition by neighbors.

The only solar project operating in Forsyth is the 312-kilowattt system at 390 Business Park Drive in Union Cross Business Park, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. That system is not considered a solar farm, in part because of its size and location on top of a building. Duke Energy owns the system and is leasing the roof space from Johnson Development Associates Inc.

The proposed Strata site is close to the area in southern Forsyth that Sunlight Partners LLC, a major solar-energy developer based in Mesa, Ariz., considered for a similarly sized solar farm in 2012 before passing on the project in June. Sunlight tried to put together 10 acres for its project, looking at sites that include the historic Moravian community of Hope, which lies along Fraternity Church Road between Stratford and Ebert roads.

“Forsyth is a more difficult county in terms of finding the right sites,” Jason Ellsworth, Sunlight’s former chief executive, said in November 2012.

By Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal