Apple, SunEnergy1 solar projects get N.C. approval

N.C. regulators have cleared two major solar projects for construction this week — Apple Inc.’s    proposed 20-megawatt project at its Catawba County server farm and the expansion of SunEnergy1’s large merchant solar plant in Plymouth.

Apple’s plans have gotten a lot more attention. Investment in the project could approach $100 million, based on current prices for solar installations. And it will be paired with a 4.8-megawatt fuel-cell project to offset some of the environmental effects of the power-hungry, 500,000-square-foot server farm Apple opened in Maiden last year.

The SunEnergy1 project could be more important for the solar industry in North Carolina. The Mooresville-based company is building the first of several projects planned by various developers that seek to build large projects in North Carolina and sell the power into the PJM Interconnection system through Dominion Power.

It will be a little smaller than the Apple project. SunEnergy1 plans to build the project in phases, eventually reaching 20 megawatts of direct current production. But converting that to alternating current — required for use on the grid — will knock the capacity down to about 17 megawatts.

Kenny Habul, chief executive of SunEnergy1, says he is looking for a way to get into the entrepreneurial merchant market. If the power were going to be sold in North Carolina, it would have to be sold directly to a utility. But by selling in PJM — which covers the mid-Atlantic States and into the Midwest — Habul can market the electricity directly to businesses that want to buy it.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved a certificate of public convenience and need Thursday for the Apple project, which is rated at 20 megawatts of alternating current. That same day, it approved an expansion of the SunEnergy1 project from 2.4 megawatts — which have already been built —to 4.15 megawatts. That will accommodate construction of the second phase of the project.

Both projects are examples of the increasing size of projects undertaken in the state. Strata Solar of Chapel Hill plans a 20-megawatt (alternating current) project of its own in Chatham County. And the company plans to build several projects in that range and is looking at even larger projects, perhaps starting before the end of the year.


Author: John Downey, Charlotte Business Journal