Davidson College may build solar farm

Davidson College may host a $10 million solar farm that would be among Mecklenburg County’s largest such installations.

Cornelius solar energy developer O2 Energies would own the 3-megawatt installation on land off Grey Road that it would lease from the college, according to papers filed last week. It’s projected to come online at the end of 2015.

The project is the second commercial-scale solar farm to be proposed for the county this year. Solar Green Development LLC applied in March for approval to build a 5-megawatt array on Rocky River Road in northeast Charlotte.

The small liberal arts college said it has not yet committed to the project, which is in the earliest stage of permitting. An application for initial approval by the N.C. Utilities Commission was filed last week.

In a brief statement, the college said it considered developing a solar farm on college grounds as it explored alternative energy sources. The college has bought 100 acres of former farmland off Grey Road.

Davidson has signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which asks schools to be local leaders in responding to global warming. Among the options it suggests is buying or producing at least 15 percent of the institution’s electricity consumption from renewable sources.

State and federal tax credits that end in December 2015 and December 2016, respectively, also prompted the college’s interest.

“Davidson College, in partnership with all constituents with whom the solar farm may impact, is committed to a transparent, thoughtful process for determining whether we will move forward with this project,” the statement said.

Solar on the rise

Spurred by falling prices for solar panels, the tax credits and the state’s green-energy mandate, North Carolina has become a national leader in solar installations.

Many communities welcome solar farms as leading-edge technology. But some neighbors object to the sight of ranks of tilted blue panels.

Residents of affluent neighborhoods on Lake Norman loudly objected last year to a 36-acre solar farm proposed for eastern Lincoln County. County commissioners voted it down in December.

Davidson’s planning ordinance doesn’t address solar farms, so standards would have to be added if the project moves forward, said planning manager Ben McCrary. The proposed site is zoned for rural uses.

“To this point, they’ve only conceptually described it to the town. They have not submitted anything for formal review,” McCrary said.

The project would also need approval from the Utilities Commission and interconnection and power-purchase agreements with Duke Energy Carolinas.