Leaders, educators tour Maxton solar farm

First Posted: 7/17/2014

MAXTON — Local officials, business leaders and educators were treated to a tour of the O2 Energies solar farm in Maxton on Wednesday, an event that the solar company’s president said he hopes will bring attention to the educational possibilities, energy potential, and economic benefits that a solar farm brings to Robeson and Scotland counties.

“Solar farms create working opportunities for people, creates a strong tax base, and offers educational opportunities for students in the local schools,” said Olee Joel Olsen Jr., president of Conelius-based O2 Eenergies. “O2 Energies wants the schools to use our farm and for businesses throughout the area to know we are here.”

Although clouds blocked the sun and rain fell as the group of about 25 toured the farm on N.C. 130 West, Olsen noted that even without direct sunlight falling on the farm’s 18,000 solar panels, the farm was still generating about 30 percent of its total capacity.

“This farm is actually overproducing,” he said. “It’s producing 119 percent of its expected capacity.”

The 4.5 million-megawatt solar farm, a $15 million investment for O2 Energies, is located on about 28 acres. Each year, Olsen said, it can generate about 6.1 million-kilowatt hours, or enough electricity to “power all the electric needs of about 500 average homes.”

Olsen said that the solar panels will generate power for at least 25 years. Power is sold to Duke Energy.

County Manager Ricky Harris said that the Maxton solar farm, along with a second farm that O2 Energies is currently operating in Fairmont on Old Stage Road, adjacent to Fairmont High School, is a boom for the local economy.

“We are taxing about $3 million of O2 Energies’ $15 million investment,” he said. “That’s quite significan t… This is definitely a positive thing for Robeson County.”

Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer, also pointed to the economic benefits of solar farms to the local economy.

“We now have eight solar farms in the county,” he said. “We have one of the highest number of solar farms of any county in the state.”

Olsen said that there is often a feeling among people that a solar farm being developed in their area is going to devalue their home and property. After a farm is built, Olsen said, most of those living close to the farm change their opinion of the solar business.

“There’s a lot of fear, but solar farms are a great asset to the community in multiple ways,” Olsen said. “… They are clean, there are no moving parts, they don’t smell, they are quiet, there is no waste.”

Later in the afternoon, O2 Energies also offered tours of their farm in Fairmont, as well as the construction site of a farm being built on property located along N.C. 41 and Turkey Branch Road.

Olsen said that as the solar industry continues to grow in Robeson County there is the potential for those industries that supply the solar industry with supplies to locate to the area.

“The larger we get the more of the supply chain will follow,” he said. “The cost of energy will become cheaper.”

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-272-6117.