MAXTON — The county’s farm lands that traditionally have grown tobacco, corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops have seen the rise of a new cash crop — sunlight.
Strata Solar, a Chapel Hill solar energy company, and JinkoSolar, a Chinese solar energy company, recently announced work on Watts Solar Farm, a 50-acre 6.4-megawatt solar farm in Maxton. It is an expansion of their “southern cluster” of solar farms, which includes Robeson, Columbus and Hoke counties, according to Blair Schooff, vice president of marketing for Strata Solar.
Strata Solar has hired about 150 people to construct, install and lead crews for six of its solar farms currently under construction, according to Markus Wilhelm, CEO of Strata Solar. He said that the company has about 25 new projects scheduled and is on pace to need about 300 new employees as early as next year.
“Robeson County has surely become a home for large scale solar development with the addition of the Watts solar farm to Strata’s portfolio in the county,” said Arturo Herrero, CMO of JinkoSolar. “We are pleased to partner with Strata Solar on the development of this landmark solar project in North Carolina.”
Residents can expect more solar farms across the county, according to Schooff.
Schooff said that the workforce in the county, combined with the county’s flat farmland, has made it an ideal place for solar farms.
“We’ve felt nothing but at home in Robeson County,” he said.
Schooff said the solar farming adds stability to farms. He said it takes out the risk that comes with crop farming; farmers don’t have to worry about whether it’s a wet or dry growing season.
“Most of the farms we’re leasing, the owners tend to feel the same way,” Schooff said. “They’re taking a parcel of farmland that isn’t being used and turning it into something productive.
“It’s an extension of being a farmer, going from farming cotton to farming electricity.”
Watts Solar Farm has 20,000 solar panels on its 50 acres that will produce enough energy to power about 600 homes, according to Wilhelm.
“Watts farm is another strong example of how sustainability has transformed into a mainstream, economic force across the state,” Wilhelm said. “Strata Solar and JinkoSolar worked together to bring employment growth, environmental responsibility and a wealth of clean energy to North Carolina through this new energy plant.”
Schooff said the solar farms will also bring tax revenue into the county. The solar farm will also reduce the county’s carbon footprint, according to Schooff.
Strata Solar was founded by Markus and Cathy Wilhelm in 2008 in Chapel Hill.