A 1,046-acre tract in northern Pender County is under construction, being transformed into a solar farm to power all U.S. operations of Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. Those operations include an expanding pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Johnston County.
Confirmation of the project from Novo Nordisk comes on the heels of the company’s recent announcement that it will achieve its goal of using only renewable electricity in its global production facilities by 2020. The solar panel installation near the Pender County community of Watha will cover 672 acres of the site, roughly the size of 500 football fields.
Developed and constructed by California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, the solar panel installation will be one of North Carolina's largest solar sites, according to Novo Nordisk's news release, which added that the project is creating about 900 construction-related jobs.
About 150 of those jobs are held by local construction workers, according to Cypress Creek Renewables spokeswoman Ally Copple.
The project is also having a ripple effect. Last year, Cypress Creek Renewables announced a partnership with Cape Fear Community College to invest in southeast North Carolina’s workforce. The initiative, which includes a $16,500 grant by Cypress Creek, will support students and instructors in Cape Fear Community College’s Sustainability Technologies program, Copple said.
“Cypress Creek is proud to support Novo Nordisk’s renewable energy commitment with solar energy sourced near the company’s new manufacturing facility under construction in Clayton, North Carolina,” Chris Norqual, vice president, Cypress Creek Renewables, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with and invest in the Pender County community and the Cape Fear region of North Carolina.”
Approval of using the property for a solar installation came at the end of a special use permit process, Pender County's planning and community development director Kyle Breuer said Wednesday. In that process, the county determined that although the property in question was arable, it was not designated as prime farmland.
When industrial projects are proposed, Breuer said, “We do look at the loss of agricultural land and try to be sensitive to that. We require applicants to register a decommissioning plan, so that if the project becomes nonviable, the land can be restored to farmland.”
The 105 megawatts of electricity generated from this installation, beginning late this calendar year, will provide power to Novo Nordisk’s entire U.S. operations, the company announced in a news release.
“When completed, ground-mounted solar arrays will harvest sunlight and provide renewable electricity to all existing Novo Nordisk U.S. offices, laboratories and manufacturing facilities as well as to support the new manufacturing facility under construction in Clayton, N.C.,” Novo Nordisk officials stated.
Last year, Novo Nordisk U.S. production sites in Clayton and New Hampshire emitted 13,460 tons of CO2 from electricity use, according to the release. With the new solar project, the company's net CO2 emissions from electricity will go down to zero.
Novo Nordisk’s production in Tianjin, China uses 100% windmill power. In Montes Claros in Brazil the company uses 100% water power, and in Europe, all production sites use 100% windmill power. In Denmark all facilities – production and offices – run on 100% renewable power, the company has stated.
The project applicant and property buyer was Crooked Run Solar LLC, a unit of Cypress Creek Renewables. Cypress Creek, a California-based developer of renewable energy projects, then sold the project to British investment firm Cubico.
Cypress Creek Renewables is handling the project’s engineering, procurement and construction, however, and will be responsible for ongoing operations and maintenance once the installation is up and running, according to Cypress Creek spokeswoman Ally Copple.
While operating solar farms do not require much in the way of on-site labor, Breuer said Wednesday, the installation will benefit Pender County’s tax base and will not require much in terms of county services or infrastructure.