HAMLET — Engineering professor Yan Solihin may be the brains behind Greentegrity Land Investment, which aims to reforest plots of land across North Carolina and turn others into solar farms. But his daughter Tiffany, he says, is the brains behind the brains.
Solihin will visit Hamlet City Council on Tuesday to monitor step 2 in a process he hopes eventually will result in the building of a solar farm on 37 acres of the old Ideal Dairy Farm tract on U.S. 74 East. He hopes to “plant back” the remaining 100-plus acres in loblolly and long-leaf pine.
Both plans ultimately resulted from talks Solihin had with Tiffany when she was in high school, he said Friday.
“She just became (an) advocate for environmental issues in our family,” Solihin remembered. “What she learned at school just made sense to me.”
Since then, Solihin — a professor in N.C. State University’s College of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a program director at the Division of Computer and Network Systems at the National Science Foundation and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — has founded Greentegrity and sought land where he could put his, and his daughter’s, ideas into practice.
He has registered a reforested tract in in another North Carolina county with the American Tree Farm System, which aims to increase the acreage of sustainable woodlands across the country. And he has explored the idea of solar farming.
The Hamlet project would be the first land he has offered to lease to a company that generates solar energy.
The attraction to Hamlet, he said, came partly from the fact that Richmond County already has several such “farms” that generate electricity using fields of glass panels that capture the sun’s rays. That means the infrastructure needed to deliver the energy already exists.
Solar farms make no noise and create no pollution, he said — although some people do find them less than attractive than a field in its natural state.
“A solar farm is a no-brainer,” Solihin said Friday, “because, essentially, we get the sun’s energy for free. To us, it’s a no-brainer if we can harvest electricity (and sell it to Duke Power). It will be good for everybody.”
On Tuesday, Hamlet City Council will consider rezoning Solihin’s 37 acres from residential to industrial use, something the city’s planning board has recommended unanimously.
A positive council vote would allow the zoning change, paving the way for Solihin to ask permission to lease the land for the solar farm. That petition would come before the council next month, City Clerk and Zoning Administrator Gail Strickland said Friday.
ESA Renewables of Sanford, Florida, wishes to build the solar farm, which would be the eighth approved for Richmond County.
In 2016, Hamlet approved the building of its first solar farm in much the same area, Strickland said in March. Construction has not begun, she said, because the company said it was awaiting improvements in the solar panels before installing them.
The new Hamlet farm would be built near the site of the old Coca-Cola bottling plant and across U.S. 74 from Unique Stone. Few houses border the land.
On its website, ESA Renewables describes itself as “an alternative-energy provider focused on delivering turn-key commercial and industrial photovoltaic projects to customers worldwide.” Its more than 500 installations include solar farms in Italy, Chile and Spain.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]