Solar project

Blue Ridge Energy released Oriden’s site map showing how the rows of photovoltaic panels will be arranged on the property in the 4400 block of Grace Chapel Road.

Blue Ridge Energy plans to build a large solar energy array in the Grace Chapel area in a matter of months.

The member-owned electric cooperative based in Lenoir announced Tuesday that the utility-scale solar farm, which it is calling the Brighter Future Solar project, will cover 50-55 acres along Grace Chapel Road across from the Grace Chapel Emergency Services building (the former Grace Chapel Fire Department. It will generate about 19,000 megawatts of power a year, enough to power about 1,600 homes and is expected to come online during 2021.

It is by far the largest solar project the company has undertaken. Blue Ridge has so far built only five small “solar gardens” — which combined cover only about 4 acres and produce enough power for 75 homes, the company said.

The largest solar array in the county currently is one that Bernhardt Furniture Co. installed in 2015 on the rooftop of Plant 4’s 250,000-square-foot building on Connelly Springs Road. It produces a little more than one-tenth the amount of electricity that Blue Ridge Energy’s project is expected to produce.

CEO Doug Johnson said the project allow Blue Ridge Energy to work towards two significant carbon-reduction targets: cutting the company’s carbon emissions to half of its 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“To meet our sustainability goals while upholding our commitments to reliability and affordability, we are focusing our efforts on areas that make the electric grid more flexible, efficient, resilient, and capable of supporting new energy solutions and the vitality of our communities,” he said.

Blue Ridge selected Oriden, a renewable energy developer based in Pittsburgh that is funded by Mitsubishi Power Americas Inc., to develop the solar farm, including overseeing all project permitting, site diligence, engineering, and major equipment decisions.

United Renewable Energy is providing late stage development support, engineering, procurement and construction services. URE develops, designs, builds and maintains solar photovoltaic and energy storage systems for utilities, industrial and commercial companies, independent power producers, and electrical membership co-operatives.

Pisgah Energy, which provides comprehensive solar and energy storage design and development services across the Southeast, also is assisting.

Blue Ridge Energy will purchase the full output of the project through a 25-year agreement. The company said in its announcement this will help control wholesale power costs to keep rates stable for cooperative members. In the future, the project can help the cooperative provide alternative rate options and help manage peak power demands for electricity.