Monday, February 27, 2012

County Boasts State's Largest Solar Rooftop

Nearly 23 acres of sun-soaking panels make up the state of North Carolina's largest rooftop solar installation, at least for the present.

Shoe Show Inc.'s $22 million private project sits atop its Cabarrus County distribution facility on Trinity Church Road, near N.C. 73 and I-85.

About 18,500 photovoltaic modules, or solar panels, are estimated to produce about 5 megawatts per year, enough to supply the power needs for more than 600 homes.

The company also installed a $4 million, 750-kilowatt system on its Florence Street building near U.S. 29 in Concord.

Both systems - portions of which have been generating power for months - were created to take advantage of Duke Energy's Renewable Energy Plan, which offers incentives to those who participate in developing renewable energy.

The entire system went online last week. Power collected will be sold to Duke or the city of Concord through a power purchase agreement.

Mooresville-based SunEnergy1, which built the system, said it is the largest rooftop system in the state and one of the largest in the nation. A 20-megawatt solar farm that company is building in Plymouth is larger, but it's on the ground.

Toys "R" Us touts the 5.38-megawatt system being built atop its distribution center in New Jersey as the largest in North America, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

The solar project Ikea plans in the university area will span 3 acres. Its rooftop will support more than 4,000 solar panels and generate 1.3 megawatts per year, enough to power about 100 homes.

Bob Tucker founded Shoe Show Inc. in Kannapolis in 1960 and has grown the company into the nation's largest independent shoe retailer. It operates 1,123 stores in 37 states and distributes 52 million pairs of shoes per year.

Investing in solar took away from his core businesses of selling shoes, but the benefits outweighed any negative, said Tucker.

"I saw a couple of people who were (investing in solar)," he said. "I knew them and their reputation, and thought if they were doing it, I need to look into it."

Tucker considered renting out the roof to a solar company, then decided against building something to power his facility. Instead, he wanted to build a large-scale system that generates power to sell.

Federal and state tax credits available for solar projects pushed Tucker to move forward.

The federal government allows a project owner to take 30 percent of the project cost as a federal tax credit. N.C. law allows the owner to take 35 percent of costs as a state tax credit.

Tucker said the amount of power the array generates impresses him most.

"It's part of a business, and if it works, it works," said Tucker. "And right now, it's working. What I keep asking is 'How much energy is it producing?' and 'Can you figure out what the real return is going to be?' And we can't really tell until we get three or four months into it."

Tucker said installing the solar array was ultimately a business move, but he's glad it will help the environment. The panels have a 25-year warranty, but their useful life could reach 50 years.

Jack Van Der Poel, Shoe Show's vice president and chief financial officer, said that until now, the push for solar power had never gained momentum, because technology was so expensive and paying for projects only by selling the energy took several years.

"But over the last few years, by having these tax credits, the whole project pays for itself in about five to six years," he said. "If you didn't have those, it would probably take a good 20 years.

"The government realizes (that) in order to get more production from the private sector, they need to put incentives in place to stimulate this, and it has worked," Van Der Poel said. "Everything driving this process was the tax credits and people wanting to take advantage of them."


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