Future bright for solar farms in Robeson County
Sunlight is becoming one of the hottest commodities around Robeson County.
The continuing boom in the solar farm industry is showing no signs up letting up in the coming year. O2 Energies just completed a 4.5-megawatt farm in Fairmont. Joel Olsen, the companys managing director, announced plans last week to build two more larger projects near Fairmont and Lumberton next year. And the CEO of Strata Solar, which has a cluster of 6.5-megawatt farms in and near Robeson County, said that of the dozen projects he has planned for next year, many are in this region.
“You cannot plan too far ahead, but I think I can say with very high confidence there's not going to be a change in our strategy for the next three to four years,” Strata CEO Markus Wilhelm said last week. Both companies have hired more than 100 local workers to build their solar farms. Many of those employees – who typically make more than $10 per hour – continue to work as new projects begin.
Strata's cluster strategy is aimed as using the same workers to build solar farms one after another.Robeson County officials have called the industry's growth a boon to the economy. Robeson County Community College and Lumber River Workforce Development created a program to retrain unemployed workers in solar installation.
Wilhelm said a study later this year will try to pin down the number of jobs brought to the state by the solar energy industry, which he estimates as nearly 1,000. A solar panel mounting company, Schletter, recently announced plans to bring more than 300 jobs to the western part of the state. North Carolina's generous tax credits for green energy, combined with an unexpected and dramatic dip in the price of solar panels, has put the solar industry years ahead of previous expectations.