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Christmas tree farm goes solar

Article Published: Oct. 6, 2011 | Modified: Oct. 6, 2011

Christmas tree-laden Newland, the county seat for Northwest North Carolina’s Avery County, has gone solar.

“Tourists travel to Avery County each year for breathtaking hiking, incredible skiing and the perfect holiday tree, but the county is embracing solar as a way to create work for its citizens, attract private investment and bring clean economic development to the High Country,” said Olee Joel Olsen, managing director at O2 Energies.

Newland will be the site of Avery Solar, a 1 megawatt solar power plant, developed and owned by O2 Energies Inc. and constructed by Strata Solar.

REC Solar panels, with American-made silicon, will span six acres on Henderson Farms, a 38-acre Christmas tree farm in Newland. The solar power plant will generate electricity equivalent to what more than 120 homes consume on an annual basis.

“The Avery Solar farm is a big win for the Newland community, bringing work to our citizens and helping our tourism industry at the same time,” said farm owner Luke Henderson. “It’s a major accomplishment for the city as Avery County embraces emerging technology.”

North Carolina-based Strata Solar hired a local workforce for the project. Strata Solar provides the engineering, procurement and construction services. The company partnered with the High County Workforce Development Board and the Youth Chamber of Commerce to recruit local installers.

“North Carolina is a leader in solar power and renewable energy,” said John Morrison, chief operating officer at Strata Solar. “This project in Avery County is one example of how solar energy is quickly becoming more mainstream for both residential and commercial power needs.”

Community support for the project has grown, as a local workforce is being used for grading, landscaping, fencing, electrical work and machinery operation, as well as long-term operations, including site management and security.

“Avery Solar provides a robust opportunity for our residents to become a part of a competent workforce in our global economy,” said Avery Economic Development Committee director Tommy Burleson. “In addition to relying on tourism, real estate and farming industries as we have historically done, this project invests in the growth in the renewable energy industries and ultimately, the future of Avery County.”

The solar plant will supply power to Mountain Electric during times of peak demand. Utilities must consistently supplement their power supply during periods of peak demand, and Avery Solar will be a great partner, he said.

In addition to providing Newland residents and businesses with clean, renewable energy, visitors and locals will have the opportunity to visit Avery Solar to learn firsthand about the benefits of solar energy.

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