Duke Energy solar project in Cabarrus County taking shape
Tucked away in the rural community of Midland at the border of Cabarrus and Stanley counties, 200 acres of agricultural land are being developed as Duke Energy’s next solar plant for North Carolina.
The 22.6-megawatt Speedway Solar Facility will eventually sport 77,000 solar panels.
Bryson Watson is Speedway’s project manager for Aerotek Inc., which is providing the temporary construction labor. He estimates that something close to 22,000 of those panels are already in place. And his crews, averaging about 60 workers, are installing new panels at an average of 2,500 day.
“We peaked last week at about 3,600 a day,” he says, watching a crew start on a new section.
The project is one if three utility-scale solar projects awarded to Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions in 2018 under the state’s Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy program. DESS, a commercial subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK), will own and operate the projects, selling the power to Duke Energy Carolinas under a 25-year agreement.
DESS started construction on Speedway in May with San Diego-based Swinerton Renewable Energy as the general contractor. Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless says the company hopes to have the project finished by the end of the year.
This week, one work crew was driving steel pylons 6 feet to 9 feet into the ground for the racking on which the solar panels are mounted. That work with the pylons is close to complete, Watson says. Large swaths of the future project resemble fields of stubble with the bare pylons standing naked in place. Crews were installing racks, which pivot on an axis to follow the sun through the day. Other workers come behind them to install panels. Still others followed to string and attach the wiring that connects the rows of panels to inverters, which convert the direct current from the panels to alternating current and, ultimately, to a substation built on the site to put the power on the grid.
The CPRE program, mandated by the N.C. General Assembly in 2017, appears likely to end with a third round of bidding for solar projects this year. Duke says it intends to continue seeking competitive bids for new solar construction in the Carolinas, but it is not clear if the same structure will be implemented.
A bill expected to pass the General Assembly this week would allow Duke utilities to own and operate 55% of new solar construction after the CPRE program ends. Independent power producers will own and operate 45% of new solar, but the law does not spell out how those producers are to be chosen by Duke.
Construction work continues at two other DESS projects won in that first round of CPRE bidding in 2018. The commercial subsidiary started work on the 50-megawatt Broad River Solar plant in February. Work on a second 22.6-megawatt plant, Stony Knoll Solar in Surry County, started in June.