RIDGECREST — The Ridgecrest Conference Center could become home to one of the state’s largest investments in solar power, featuring potentially 90,500 solar panels tucked away from view on 200 acres of the mountain retreat.
Amenergy Inc., based in Santa Fe, N.M., has applied to the N.C. Utilities Commission, seeking permission to install solar panels valued at $64.5 million on six tracts around Ridgecrest.
“Ridgecrest Conference Center is discussing the possibility of leasing a few acres in a remote area of our property to Amenergy,” said Jon Wilke, a Lifeway Christian Resources spokesman in Nashville, Tenn.
Lifeway, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, owns the 1,300-acre conference center in eastern Buncombe County.
The electricity generated by the solar panels — up to 21.5 megawatts of direct current — would be sold to Progress Energy Carolinas, according to documents filed with the Utilities Commission.
“We are targeting that the whole master plan could be fully completed by no later than 2015,” said William Oglesby, president of Amenergy.
The wooded tracts have been sited so they aren’t visible from Interstate 40, which passes by the Ridgecrest Conference Center, Oglesby said. The first phase of 12 acres lies south of the interstate on the other side of a ridge.
If approved by the Utilities Commission, that first array of 8,500 panels could be up and running by next spring , generating 2 megawatts of power.
Even in its first phase, the Ridgecrest project would be larger than the 1.5 megawatt array of 5,000 panels that Biltmore Estate installed in April on 6 acres visible from I-40.
The Ridgecrest system would rival the state’s largest solar installations, including Apple’s plans to build a 20-megawatt solar farm to power its data center in Maiden County. Sun Energy One, a Mooresville company, is building a 60,000-panel array on 85 acres near Bath in Beaufort County.
Oglesby declined to call the project a solar farm since it would be spread over six different tracts. “In my mind, a solar farm would be considered one array. These are multiple independent systems,” he said. “It’s completely infeasible to target that area of the state and put in a single 20-megawatt system.”