FAIRMONT — Although the sun didn’t shine on the opening ceremonies of Fairmont’s 4.5-megawatt solar farm, speakers at the event expressed a bright future for renewable energy.
“We’re at a position right now if we make a few good decisions as a nation, that we can have North American energy independence,” Congressman Larry Kissel said. “But it comes from using a vast array of energy sources, not the least of which is our renewables in terms of our wind, and our solar, and our biofuels. I would recognize that right now North Carolina has set the standard … . We can produce solar here and we can enjoy the resources and the jobs it creates.”
The solar farm, named Progress Solar II and designed by O2 Energies, will feed about 6,150 megawatt hours of electricity during peak sunshine hours into the Progress Energy power grid — enough to power 700 homes.
The farm is comprised of 18,000 solar panels and covers 28 acres of land near Fairmont High School where tobacco used to grow.
“We are standing on a tobacco farm of 50 or 75 years, and probably 150 years,” state Sen. Michael Walters said. “But as you well now, tobacco is not as prominent in Robeson County as it was 10 years ago, seven years ago or even today. So now we are looking to the future, and we look at solar energy.”
According to O2 Energies, the installation of the panels created a need for 100 jobs, most of which were filled locally after a job fair at Robeson Community College.
“There’s 32 vendors that participated in this project — that’s job creation,” Walters said. “…Thirty-two of our local folks here …. numerous other folks in the town of Fairmont benefited from the investment that was made here. That’s tremendous.”
President of O2 Energies Joel Olsen said he has spoken at all of the company’s five solar farm openings and was pleased with the about 80 people who visited Fairmont’s farm and those who spoke, including Fairmont Mayor Charles Kemp, Commissioners Tom Taylor and Noah Woods, Rev. Gary Deese, and David McNeill, community relations manager for Progress Energy.
“The turnout has been great, especially at the state representative level,” Olsen said. “There were about 50 workers who came out, which was good because it was their project.”
O2 Energies is working on several other solar projects across the state. The company recently completed the Mayberry Solar Farm in Mount Airy and the Avery Solar Farm near Grandfather Mountain.