DOBSON — A new solar energy farm is in the works just outside the county seat on a 39-acre site.
Hayes Solar, of Charlotte, has been preparing the site for a “3.0-megawatt ground-mounted solar photovoltaic facility” that would disturb 34.4 acres of the property just west of Dobson Elementary School at 718 W. Atkins St.
In July, Hayes Solar ran legal notices in The Mount Airy News letting the public know that it would have to get an environmental assessment performed by the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, a department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA would have to ensure that disturbing nearly three dozen acres of land wouldn’t have a negative impact on farm land in the area.
In the legal notice, Hayes explained that the project would utilize solar modules, mounted on a steel racking system which will be anchored into the ground using driven steel piers, to convert the sun’s energy to usable power.
“The estimated duration of construction is three to four months, and it is anticipated that the proposed project will operate for a minimum of 40 years, and when the proposed project has reached its operational end, the site can be returned to its preconstruction state,” said the notice.
The power generated from the facility would be sold to Duke Energy Carolina (DEC) through a long-term power purchase agreement. Duke would construct all necessary distribution system upgrades to connect the facility to its electrical system.
Hayes Solar has run another legal notice in The News, advertising that the USDA had finished the agriculture impact study.
The USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS) made a finding of no significant impact with the 34.4-acre project.
“The RBS has reviewed and approved the EA (environmental assessment) for the proposed project.”
When the announcement was made of the upcoming assessment in July, the USDA gave two weeks for the public to make comments on the project. The agency said it received only one letter.
Concerns raised in that letter included:
• Having a negative impact on agricultural balance in the vicinity;
• Causing damage to above/below-ground springs;
• Inadequate drainage control for storm water runoff and the impact that might have on neighboring ponds and wetlands;
• The need for setbacks and buffers from wetlands.
The RBS and an outside environmental group, True North Consultants, concluded that the project would have “no significant impact — or no impacts — to water quality, wetlands, floodplains, land use, aesthetics, transportation or human health and safety.” Nor will it endanger any protected wildlife.
Furthermore, the report says the project “will have no adverse effect on resources listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.” And it won’t “disproportionately affect minority and/or low-income populations.”
Therefore, Hayes Solar has cleared a hurdle “with respect to a request for possible financing assistance” from USDA Rural Assistance.
The notice did not say whether this assistance would be in the form of grant money or zero-interest loans.
The legal notice stated that Bill Tew, business program specialist with USDA Rural Development, was working with the company on this project. However, attempts to reach Tew by phone and email have been unsuccessful.
Nathan Walls, assistant to the county manager, said no request has been made to appear before the county commissioners on this project.
Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, said he has not been contacted by Hayes Solar about the farm.
Solar energy is a growing trend in Surry County over the past decade.
• Off Park Drive at the quarry, the Ararat Solar Farm began in 2011 as a partnership between developer O2 Energies and Ararat Rock Products.
O2 Energies told The Mount Airy News back then that annually the solar farm could generate 6,300 megawatt-hours of clean electricity during times of peak demand. This is the equivalent of powering the electricity needs of 600 homes on an annual basis, the company said.
Livestock are used to graze under the panels during the summer months to keep vegetation from growing up into the way of the sun’s rays, demonstrating a dual use for land.
This multi-million dollar investment created work for more than 100 individuals and over 20 local and in-state companies, setting the stage for a new era for renewable energy in North Carolina.
• A few months later in March 2012, numerous business leaders and government officials gathered in Mount Airy for the dedication of a second solar farm with O2 Energies.
Organizers estimate that around 200 people gathered at Mayberry Solar Farm, located off U.S. 52 on property surrounding the municipal wastewater treatment plant at the south end of town.
O2 Energies, a company which develops turn-key, ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, worked with the city over two years to obtain a lease and right-of-way to start the project on city property. It worked with Surrey Bank and Trust to provide loan financing for the multi-million dollar project. More than 20 local and state businesses were involved with the construction of the solar farm, which was said to require minimal upkeep now that it is operational. Strata Solar provided engineering, procurement and construction services for the project.
The 1.2 megawatt solar farm consists of rows of solar collectors mounted to the ground and was expected to power around 150 homes. The power generated by the solar panels will go into the Duke Energy grid to power local homes. ElectriCities of North Carolina and Duke Energy will buy the renewable energy credits and electricity generated. The solar panels were placed on around six acres of land.
• In July 2015 the Triad Business Journal reported on an operation O2 Energies was planning in Yadkinville.
The story said the company would build a $12 million, 3.5-megawatt solar farm in Yadkinville that would generate up to 100 jobs during construction.
The Yadkinville farm was one of four solar farms that O2 was building across the state that year, including a 20-megawatt plant in Montgomery County. “Yadkinville Solar” was expected to cover about 18 acres on land that previously served as a grass runway for small airplanes. It is located just more than a mile from Unifi’s Repreve recycling plant, where Unifi installed a 1-megawatt solar farm through a partnership with Duke Energy.
• At an April 2019 meeting, the Surry County Board of Commissioners heard about a plan to put a large solar energy farm in the Stony Knoll community, north of Rockford.
Kim Bates, county planning director, told the board that Duke Energy Renewables had made a request to the Surry County Planning Board for a conditional-use permit for about 350 acres.
Bates said such a request wouldn’t make it to the level of the commissioners, but he thought they would want to know due to the scope of the project.
Two weeks later, Duke Energy sent out a press release about 14 projects that it would be pursuing under the state’s Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy (CPRE) program.
These projects, if all are completed as planned, would create 602 MW of energy, with 22.6 MW coming from the Surry project.
Duke Energy stated that it will directly develop six photovoltaic projects, five of which will be newly constructed.