Already famous for its sweet potatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers, eastern North Carolina is rapidly cultivating another cash crop—photovoltaic panels.
Taking advantage of the region’s expansive, lightly populated, and generally sunny coastal plain, a number of energy companies are building or have proposed solar energy generating farms, complementing a proliferation of facility- and site-specific installations totaling 953 MW, making North Carolina number 4 in the country in installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The 397 MW of new capacity installed in 2014 was second only to California.
Leading the new projects is a 80 MW farm proposed by Duke Energy Renewables in Currituck County near the town of Moyock, known more to outsiders as a milestone en route to the Outer Banks. Duke also has a 20 MW farm nearing completion south of Elizabeth City, which with projects at two other nearby sites, will produce a total of 52 MW.
In addition, more than a dozen other solar generating facilities are in the planning stages from Fayetteville to the Virginia border, including several capable of producing more than 75 MW each.
Just as good agricultural practices can give Mother Nature some extra help when it comes to raising vegetables, North Carolina’s solar energy industry has benefited from the nation’s most generous renewable energy tax credit, applicable to as much as 35 percent of the costs of a renewable-energy project. Although the credit is scheduled to expire this year, a five-year extension is currently under consideration by the state legislature.