Our View: A ray of sunshine

By John Charles Robbins

September 21, 2013

While the economy still struggles to regain its footing, and while we take stock of our blessings here in the shadow of U.S. 1 and U.S. 220, we wanted to welcome a shiny — literally, shiny — new gem in the crown that makes up Richmond County.

As you wind the sloping curves of Highway 177 between Hamlet and Hoffman, you will crest a hilltop and your eyes will be drawn to a brand new, very special, unusual farm.

It’s a solar farm, and what its acres of metal and plastic and glass are growing is energy. Pure, beautiful energy.

Something to keep the water warm in your pool, or making sure you have a light to read by tonight, or to power that ceiling fan in the living room.

It’s long past time that someone in the area harnesses the power of the sun, so thank you, Claude Smith — a job well done.

If you’ve driven down Highway 177, just down the road from the Rockingham Speedway, you no doubt have seen the sea of solar panels. Like hungry mouths of baby birds, angled upward to the sky, the more than 26,000 solar panels sit on about 40 acres of land owned by Claude Smith.

Tri-City, Inc. entered into an agreement to partner with Birdseye Renewable Energy and Strata Solar for construction and operation of a 5-megawatt AC solar photovoltaic (PV) array. Construction was completed this summer, and the solar farm’s energy output is being sold to Progress Energy Carolinas, aka Duke Energy.

Tri-City, Inc. was founded in 1964 by owner and sole proprietor, Claude F. Smith, a life-long native of Richmond County. Since its inception, the company has constructed and owns a large variety of shopping centers, apartments, homes, clubhouses, golf courses, office buildings and commercial retail buildings for most major tenants.

Birdseye Renewable Energy, a renewable energy project developer based in Charlotte, is developing the solar project with its partners Strata Solar, based in Chapel Hill.

“Tri-City, Inc. is proud to be associated with bringing the first solar plant to Richmond County,” said Smith. “We view this as a win-win for all involved, including our community which will enjoy a higher share of clean and reliable energy.”

An estimated 170,000 tons of CO2 emissions will be avoided over this system’s life, according to Tri-City, Inc. This is equivalent to planting nearly 4 million trees, saving 17 million gallons of gasoline, recycling about 540,000 tons of waste or replacing CO2 emissions from the annual electric use of 20,000 homes.

Solar energy allows utility providers to increase their power capacity sustainably and limit constructing additional power plants that are paid for by rate increases to the consumer. And so, solar farms are environmentally and economically beneficial to North Carolina.

“Solar power is the energy of the future,” Smith said. “It is safe, clean and 100 percent environmentally compatible.”

Here comes the sun.