Construction on solar projects planned for the Pender County area on hundreds of acres in rural Southeastern North Carolina could begin this year.
Cypress Creek Renewables is looking at developing two projects in the county – Willard solar ( a 5-megawatt project) and Crooked Run solar (at 70 megawatts), according to Phillip Martin, regional zoning and outreach manager for the solar farm developer.
“We anticipate both projects could start construction late this year,” he said. “We anticipate that both Crooked Run and Willard will employ hundreds of construction workers, and we want to hire locally whenever we are able. Before we start construction, we will have local business opportunity meetings.”
Those meeting dates have not yet been announced, he said.
The company estimates the Willard solar project will contribute more than $280,000 to the tax base of Pender County and the Crooked Run project will contribute more than $3.5 million over the project’s 40-year lifetime, he said.
According to the Pender County planning department, a special use permit was approved in April 2017 for a planned development, listed under Crooked Run Solar LLC, on 455 acres off N.C. 11 between the state highway and Watha Road, south of Wallace.
A typical solar project requires 10 acres per 1 megawatt, company officials said. The largest project in North Carolina is in Hope Mills at 79 megawatts.
The company also has 12 solar-plus-storage projects in Brunswick County. On Monday, the company announced that Maryland-based energy solutions company Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and Cypress Creek Renewables have commissioned 12-megawatt hours of GridStar Lithium energy storage systems for those projects.
The solar-plus-storage system will provide electricity to communities served by Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. in Southeastern North Carolina, officials said in the Monday news release.
“The technology ensures that this power is rapidly dispatchable — a key benefit that allows Brunswick EMC to avoid peaking costs and pass the savings to its member-owners in Brunswick and Columbus Counties, as well as small areas of Robeson and Bladen Counties,” Cypress Creek officials said in the release.
“These projects provide solar energy to our members and compound the value by delivering it exactly when we need it,” CEO and general manager of Brunswick EMC, said in the release. “This collaboration will provide significant value to our members for years to come.”
These 12 solar-plus-storage projects represent the first set of battery storage projects developed, constructed, financed and commissioned by Cypress Creek, company officials said. Cypress Creek acquired the projects from United Renewable Energy, the company that was the initial developer of the projects
Solar projects are not the only investment the company is making in the region. On Tuesday, company officials, along with Cape Fear Community College, announced a three-year partnership, in which the solar developer is making a $16,500 investment to support students and instructors in the college’s sustainability technologies program.
Representatives with the company, along with college officials and local leaders, gathered at the college’s Advanced and Emerging Technologies Building to announce the partnership on Tuesday. The money will help fund scholarships and other necessities of the program in $5,500 increments each year.
Greg Gebhardt, director of government and community relations for Cypress Creek Renewables, said this partnership is part of Cypress Creek Renewables’ national workforce development initiative.
The company aims to strengthen the U.S. workforce through investment, job training and workforce development, Gebhardt said. Cypress Creek Renewables’ initiative with CFCC is one of four such partnerships with technical community colleges in the nation, he said. Others include partnerships in South Carolina, New York and Illinois.
Its partnership with CFCC is different in that Cypress Creek Renewables has a strong presence in North Carolina, with more than 135 projects across the state, he said, adding, “Most of those are east of Interstate 95."
North Carolina is a national leader in solar energy, officials said in a news release following the announcement Tuesday.
“Last year, the state topped the country in utility-scale solar installations, adding nearly 1,200 megawatts of new solar – enough energy to power about 200,000 homes. And in 2017, the state added 500 new solar jobs. More than 7,600 North Carolinians are new employed by the solar industry,” officials said in the release.
U.S. Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), who was also in attendance at CFCC for the announcement Tuesday, said, "Wind, solar, natural gas, are the foundation for the energy future."
John Wojciechowski, director of the college’s sustainability technologies program, said the investment and newly formed partnership will primarily help students afford the programs, but will also aid instructors with teaching strategies and developments in the solar industry.
"We're really focused on a three-legged stool for our program. We're focused on renewable energy, building energy and building infrastructure and sustainability. And those three facets of our training really do overlap and work together to form really what I think are holistically trained students that they can go out into a number of different fields,” he said.
The program, which focuses on sustainability, renewable energy and building performance, has new lab space at the Advanced and Emerging Technologies Building at CFCC's North Campus. The sustainability technologies program is a two-year associate's degree program. There are also weekslong certifications available to students through the program.
Zac Simoneau, a resident of Wilmington and graduate of CFCC’s sustainability technologies program, who currently works as a quality control technician for Cypress Creek Renewables, said his education at CFCC prepared him for his career with Cypress Creek Renewables, and his happy his company is providing additional opportunities for students in the program.
"This program not only prepares you for a career. It prepares you for life," he said.