EDP plans 500-acre solar park

By Chris Miller

EDP Renewable's Cameron Solar Park in South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Blair Matocha.

A new solar project is coming to Misenheimer that will help put the village, and Stanly County, on the map as a major hub for renewable energy.

The Misenheimer Solar Park will be on 500 acres of private land about a half mile west of Pfeiffer University. It will feature approximately 200,000 panels, according to officials with EDP Renewables, a Houston-based company that is developing the park.

The company operates 58 wind farms and eight solar parks across 17 states and parts of Canada and Mexico, which produce more than 8,000 megawatts (MW) of onshore utility-scale renewable energy, according to its website.

The park, which will be on either side of U.S. Highway 52, will have installed capacity of 74 MW, making it likely one of the largest projects in the state. The power generated, which is the equivalent to the consumption of more than 12,000 North Carolina homes, will support the area’s electric grid and will be purchased by Duke Energy.

Misenheimer Mayor Michael Herron said EDP is in the process of completing all the paperwork and agreements necessary to get the project started.

The solar park represents a capital investment of at least $70 million, according to the company, and will disperse millions of dollars to local governments throughout the life of the project, including an estimated $3.5 million in taxes to support local schools and community services. The project will also create hundreds of construction jobs and many permanent jobs.

“Jobs-wise, our methodology is to hire local labor to the best extent we can,” said Rob Anders, associate director of development.

The solar panels will be on property owned by five landowners, who will be paid more than $27 million through the life of the park, once it’s in operation.

The park will save more than 93 million gallons of water each year and prevent the air pollution that causes smog, acid rain and contributes to climate change, which is important to Herron.

“I hope this project will allow The Village of Misenheimer to play a role in fighting climate change,” he said.

EDP has acquired all of the zoning permits and is in the design phase of the project. Site preparation should begin later this year, with the bulk of the construction set to take place next year. The plan is to have the solar park fully operational by the end of 2023.

To better plan for the eventual development of solar projects in the community, Stanly County Board of Commissioners in 2020 added more stringent restrictions to the county’s solar farm ordinance, reducing the height of each panel to 20 feet and increasing setbacks of structures and fencing to 250 feet on all property lines, among other things.

“Stanly County has increased the environmental and land use restrictions on these solar projects in an effort to help protect the citizens of Stanly County,” County Manager Andy Lucas said. “However, the long-term impact (water runoff from solar panels, disposal of the panels at the end of life, decommissioning impact on the land, etc.) has not been widely evaluated.”

Lucas said solar projects like the one in Misenheimer generate additional property tax revenue, but the values are “significantly decreased” due to legislation enacted in 2008 exempting 80 percent of the appraised value of a “solar energy electric system.” This means only 20 percent of the value is taxable at the local level.

EDP has three solar parks in South Carolina, but the project in Misenheimer will be the company’s first in North Carolina.

“We were really interested in expanding our footprint in the Carolinas overall and really getting a hold in North Carolina,” said Emily Hughes Morilla, the project manager for Misenheimer Solar.

EDP, which is world’s fourth-largest renewable energy producer, acquired the solar project in 2020 from another company, Orion Renewable Energy Group, which had already started negotiations with some of the landowners. EDP quickly established connections with village and county officials, Pfeiffer and relevant landowners.

Once installed, the solar panels will absorb the sunlight and convert it into electricity. It will then be collected, transformed into alternating-current, and entered into the electrical grid through a substation after being converted to the proper voltage.

The project team in March visited Pfeiffer to share information about the project and engage students and staff to help design the Solar Park’s logo. They’ve continued to reach out to the university about possible internship opportunities for students and tours of the park once it’s operational.

“I see a lot of direct classroom opportunities, too, not only with Pfeiffer but hopefully also with Gray Stone Day School,” Morilla said, noting her team also plans to make contact with Stanly County Schools. “There’s so much that goes into making these projects a reality and connecting students with our experts here in-house and our on-site team” is important.

EDP’s relationship with the village and county will not end once the park is up and running. The company plans to operate the facility for the life of the project, which means continuing to form relationships with members of the community.

“We see ourselves and the company as a long-term guest and contributing member of the community there in the Village and in Stanly County,” Anders said.

A pre-construction open house, where members of the community can meet with the project team, will take place in the coming months.

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