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Charlotte considers second solar farm to meet its climate goals

Duke Energy Solar farm near Elizabeth City NC
Duke Energy
The city of Charlotte hopes eventually to get power from two solar farms to help meet its climate goals.

As the start of construction nears for the city of Charlotte's first solar farm in Iredell County, the city is seeking a developer for a second solar project to help meet its climate goals.

Charlotte's Strategic Energy Action Plan calls for switching to carbon-free energy in city facilities by 2030 to help fight climate change. The city's electricity provider, Duke Energy, still relies on coal- and gas-fired power plants, so the city has been looking for ways to close the gap.

"So we have three basic levers to use to meet our 2030 goal. Those are energy efficiency, on-site solar, and then off-site solar. And off-site solar is definitely one of those things that we have to look at," said Heather Bolick, the city's sustainable infrastructure strategy manager.

The city has a contract with Asheville-based Pine Gate Renewables to build a $50 million solar farm near Statesville, called Olin Creek. Pine Gate recently took over the project from the original developer, Ecoplexus. Construction is slated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to Pine Gate.

The 35-megawatt Olin Creek project will provide about one-fifth of the electricity the city needs. But there's still a gap to meet the zero-carbon goal. Now the city is seeking bidders for a second solar farm.

"We would love to have a project that is as close to Charlotte as possible and where our community can reap the benefits," Bolick said.

Ecoplexus told the city last fall it could not build the project under the original contract because of rising equipment prices, supply chain delays and U.S. tariffs on imported solar panels. After the city council agreed to a 25% price increase for the electricity, Ecoplexus sold the project to Pine Gate.

But the cost increase means that instead of saving money on its electric bill, the city would pay an extra $750,000 a year.

State law prohibits the city from buying electricity directly from solar farms, so the Iredell project and any future project would sell the electricity through Duke Energy's Green Source Advantage program. It allows a limited number of large electricity customers to contract with third-party developers for renewable energy. Green Source Advantage has struggled to get off the ground because of changes in the solar market, rising costs, and in some cases, local opposition to solar farms.

Pine Gate Renewables is also planning a solar farm in Alamance County that would serve the city of Durham, Durham County Government and Durham Public Schools through the Green Source Advantage program.

Proposals for the city of Charlotte's second solar farm are due June 9.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.