FAIRMONT, NC (WMBF) Areas in Robeson County will soon have a new source of energy and cheaper electricity bills. A $15 million investment is being put into a new solar energy plant that will bring a cleaner source of electricity to the area and more jobs.
Farm land in Fairmont was used to make crops like tobacco years ago. It may not look too promising now, but soon, it will be turned into a different type of farm producing energy that can power about 700 homes in the area.
"When I was 16 years old, all we can think about in Fairmont was tobacco and to know, in my lifetime, that we have gone from tobacco and textiles to now solar panels, it's kinda mind-boggling," said Mayor Charles Kemp.
Community leaders gathered Wednesday to learn about the new solar farm coming to Fairmont.
Project managers say the solar panels will generate electrons from the sun and transfer clean energy throughout the city.
"It's kinda like putting in an extra lane in traffic or an extra road in when you have a lot of traffic going through it, it makes things less expensive for the utilities and it's a cleaner source of electricity during daylight hours," explains Joel Olsen, managing director for O2 Energies.
18,000 solar panels will make up the 21-acre farm that will transfer energy through the Progress Energy grid during the day.
When the sun goes down, the electricity will be transferred from the primary source.
The construction for the new plant will create 50 to 100 jobs, but it won't take too many people to maintain the facility.
"It provides immediate work when we need it the most and it also provides training opportunities and new industry which is growing," said Olsen.
City leaders say this new solar farm will create interest that may bring more business and growth to the community, and most importantly, give relief to those high electricity bills.
"Going forward for the next 20 years, this solar power plant won't put any upward pressure on rates, in fact it will maintain and stabilize the cost of electricity… the more solar we have, the more transparent and predictable energy prices we'll see," said Olsen.
The 4.5 megawatt Fairmont Solar Farm will not only maximize the use of local labor, but O2 Energies has also selected equipment with a high content of US manufactured components. Solar module manufacturer REC, who manufactures their solar grade silicon in the US will supply the modules to power the solar system.
Project managers for O2 Energies tell me they plan to maintain the farm land under the solar panels by bringing in sheep from local farms during specific seasons to eat the tall grass.
They say it's more environmentally friendly and more efficient than trying to maneuver a lawn mower through a solar farm.
Project managers say the construction on the new solar farm will start in May and take about six months to complete, but they are already in the beginning stages of planning another solar farm in Maxton, North Carolina.