Solar powered, sheep-tended plant

ROXBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - The state's newest solar energy farm, which officially opened near Roxboro, will be one of North Carolina's most visible green-energy efforts.

Progress Energy is buying the electricity generated by the 5-acre facility in Person County, enough to power about 60 homes, as part of a 20-year contract. The solar power plant has already begun generating electricity.

The 650-kilowatt facility, operated by Carolina Solar Energy of Durham, is not the state's largest.

Progress Energy signed a contract for a Laurinburg facility that will be nearly four times bigger.

But the complex of 3,420 angled photovoltaic panels at the Person County Business and Industrial Center is clearly visible from U.S. 501.

"People are stopping by all the time," said Richard Harkrader, owner of Carolina Solar Energy. "At first, people thought it was a vineyard because we were putting up a lot of poles."

Carolina Solar Energy plans to debut a Web site that will provide real-time readouts showing how much energy the solar farm is generating, how much power it has generated to date, and how much carbon dioxide it's reducing by offsetting power from Progress Energy's coal-burning power plants.

Solar panels are pricey, and putting them on public display is not without risk. BB&T, the bank that financed the project, required that the $4 million solar farm be surrounded by barbed wire.

To further promote the green theme, Carolina Solar Energy will arrange to have sheep brought in to trim the grass. Jim Stovall, chairman of the Person County Economic Development Commission, said sheep are a natural fit.

Progress Energy has six contracts with solar farms to help it meet renewable energy goals spelled out in a 2007 state energy law. One in Cary, on the campus of software developer SAS, also uses sheep.

"That's increasingly considered a best practice," SAS spokeswoman Allison Lane said. "They're much better able to get around the panels and equipment than our landscaping would ever be. And (there are) fewer emissions."


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