PELHAM — The first thing that gets your attention is the blue — row after row of polycrystalline panels sitting atop aluminum racking gleaming in the sunlight.
From a distance, the fenced-in area could be mistaken for a body of water.
This is a farm. Its crop is the sun.
The solar farm, which is run by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, sits on roughly 40 acres. More than 26,000 solar panels generate 5 megawatts of AC power.
This power, enough to serve 750 houses, is sold to Duke Energy.
County Manager Lance Metzler said the solar farm, Dibrell Farm, is the first in Rockingham County. He said more farms like this are likely in the near future.
“We are looking at other sites throughout the county that might interest Strata Solar,” Metzler said.
Blair Schooff, Strata Solar’s vice president of marketing and sales, said the company is interested in developing more farms in Rockingham County.
“We have a couple of projects lined up,” Schooff said. “We are actively interested in the area.”
Schooff said Guilford County is also on Strata Solar’s radar.
“We are looking very intensely at that whole part of the state,” he said.
They crop up quickly, no matter where they go.
Construction on Dibrell Farm began in mid-January, and it was commissioned April 5. Strata Solar leases the farmland for 20 years with a 10-year option.
The company works with the land as is and did little to no grading. When the deal ends, the panels will be removed and recycled. The land can be used for farming or whatever else the landowner chooses.
“It’s a $12 million investment in the community,” Metzler said, adding that the company spent about $250,000 in the community during construction.
It is a good source of income for the property owner. Schooff said farmers are usually eager to deal with the company.
“We have been well-embraced by the farm community,” Schooff said.
Giant solar farms are a fairly new thing, at least in central North Carolina. Companies say they need trained workers, undeveloped land, community and government support and plenty of sunshine — which the area has in abundance.
SunEdison runs a solar farm on 355 acres in Davidson County and supplies electricity to Duke Energy under a 20-year contract.
In 2011, Guilford County was one of seven finalists for what was touted as the largest solar farm in the world — a $1.4 billion project. National Solar Power of Melbourne, Fla., eventually built the farm in its home state.
But the size and scope of the project got officials in the Triad talking about solar energy as a viable economic development option for this struggling area.
National Solar Power’s five-year construction phase, for instance, would have created 400 jobs. And the $1.4 billion investment would have produced $10.9 million in Guilford County taxes.
Strata Solar works with employment and economic development offices where projects are built, and it hires and trains individuals. Its strategy is to build solar farms in regional clusters so its teams can move from one job to the next.
Where “next” is Schooff wouldn’t say, but the company isn’t finished with Rockingham County.
And there is plenty of sunshine to go around.