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Solar farm lights way

Solar farm lights wayBy next year, the largest photovoltaic solar energy farm in the country

will be in Davidson County, one of the most visible impacts of a new state

law on renewable energy passed in 2007.It is too early to say whether the law is working, experts say, but

officials point to it as the main reason Sun Edison LLC, of Maryland, is

building a $173 million solar energy farm in North Carolina. Under the law,

public utilities must get 12.5 percent of their power from renewable energy

and energy efficiency measures by 2021.Duke Energy and Progress Energy are already developing plans to meet the

renewable energy portfolio standard. Duke Energy entered into an agreement

last year to buy all the electricity produced by the 21.5-megawatt solar

farm in Davidson, which is enough to power about 2,600 homes."They're well aware of our renewable energy portfolio standard and Duke's

requirements," said Brian Lips, a policy analyst with the N.C. Solar Center

at N.C. State University, about SunEdison. "And that's the sole reason why

they came here. Whether that interest turns into real installations, that's

something we'll have to see."Today, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners is expected to consider a

request by SunEdison and Golden Crescent Investment Corp. to rezone about

355 acres off of New Jersey Church Road near N.C. 47. Golden Crescent owns

the land, and SunEdison has an option on the land, on which the solar

energy farm would be built. If commissioners approve the rezoning,

construction would start in June and the solar farm would be completed by

late 2010.Last year, the commissioners approved $2 million in incentives for the

project if the company invested $173 million in the project and provided up

to 80 construction jobs and three full-time jobs. SunEdison still hasn't

signed the agreement, and it isn't clear why. Company officials weren't

available for comment.Davidson County has gotten a lot of notice for landing the solar farm. One

reason it chose the site: Duke Energy's transmission lines cross the

property.Steve Googe, the executive director of the Davidson County Economic

Development Commission, said he has fielded plenty of calls from people all

over the country interested in solar energy.He puts much of the credit on the state energy law passed two years ago."Quite honesty, given all of the effort that we've put into conserving

fossil fuel, it makes sense and puts North Carolina in a leadership role in

the United States to assist the power providers in reducing their

dependence on fossil fuels," he said.North Carolina was the first state in the southeastern United States to

adopt a renewable-energy portfolio standard. That came after years of

resistance from power companies. Twenty eight states across the country

have similar standards, said Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the Solar

Energy Industries Association.The Obama administration is pushing for a federal standard. Hanis said that

Congress will likely consider legislation later this year.But cost remains an obstacle. Renewable energy costs more to produce than

coal and nuclear energy, experts said.Progress Energy executives said last month they doubted they could meet the

renewable energy standard because there aren't enough renewable energy

resources in North Carolina."We've been scouring the market to find renewable energy resources," said

Bill Johnson, the chief executive for Progress Energy, in an opinion column

published in The News & Observer. "But what we've found is that renewable

energy in North Carolina is far from plentiful and cheap."Johnson said that there is about one-third the capacity available in North

Carolina at three to four times the cost company officials had anticipated.

SunEdison will be supplying energy to Progress from a 1.2 megawatt solar

farm near Wilmington.In the area of solar energy, the financing of such projects has shrunk,

said Lips of the N.C. Solar Center. SunEdison