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2nd town solar farm in works

Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, aren’t new, but are beginning to become more competitive.

The town of Ridgeland is part of a thriving charge toward solar energy in the Lowcountry.

With a solar farm already planned for the Grahamville area, the town is moving forward on a project for a solar farm on the Moultrie Tract behind Fordville Road, minutes from Exit 22 off Interstate 95.

The 90-acre property is already part of a lease under Nimitz Solar, which is owned by Southern Current, LLC. According to Southern Current representatives, the company is a leading solar developer in the Southeast. It’s based out of Charleston and has done projects across the Southeast and as far-ranging as Hawaii. Southern Current also works to develop key partnerships with energy providers, such as SCE&G and Duke Energy.

The landowner, Fred Nimmer, contacted Southern Current to spearhead the solar farm project.

“The property has intrinsic buffering. It really allows a lot of flexibility to move the project back and still allow for buffering,” said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, director of land management at Clean Energy Collective, at the March 7 Ridgeland Planning Commission meeting. “It’s an ideal location, there’s good access and (it’s) far enough away from any conflicting land uses in the area.”

Solar energy is harvested by solar panels. These panels absorb light — photons — from the sun. The panels allow for the photons to knock electrons free, creating electric imbalance — and thereby a flow of electricity. That electricity is absorbed through photovoltaic cells in the panels that allow it to be harnessed as an energy source.

The proposed 10.4 megawatt solar farm will be classified as a community solar array; the energy harvested from the solar farm will power houses and business in the community. Traditionally, energy harvested from solar farms is sold to power companies who in turn sell the energy to consumers.

“We allow people who otherwise may not be able to participate in solar the opportunity to do so,” said Greg Ness of Southern Current. “This project will be 100 percent community solar.”

Community solar enables residents, businesses and nonprofits to opt-in to the renewable energy. Southern Current will negotiate a price that monetizes the cost, for tax purposes, and then provide for residents who choose solar to pay that predetermined rate. This allows for those individuals to receive the same tax credits without having to go through accountants and keep paper records of their energy bills.

A contract is being proposed to the town that is expected to save the town $10,000 annually on its energy bill by opting into solar power.

The solar project is currently in the Civil Engineering Design phase, which is expected to end March 27.

Then the project will be submitted for permits and, hopefully by the start of June, construction will begin. Construction is expected to take four months, so by as early as October 2017 the Nimitz Solar farm could be operational. Southern Current assured that the farm will be operational before the end of the year.

Southern Current plans to hire local workers to construct the farm and has begun searching for electricians and other laborers. While the work is temporary, working in solar energy is a strong skill to put on a résumé with its increasing popularity.

The company is also interested in hiring local landscapers to maintain the grounds around the farm — monthly or bimonthly work. Natural vegetation mixed with grass seed will surround the panels, with gravel roads throughout the farm.

“The nearest residential area is on Fordville Road and is easily 1,000 feet-plus away from the solar farm,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s got the noise of essentially a refrigerator — a low buzzing sound from the inverters on the side of the panels. You’d have to get 20-50 feet away (from a panel) to hear anything.”

If the project were to be decommissioned, Southern Current would be primarily responsible for the deconstruction of the panels.

Next steps for the project will be heard at Thursday’s 6 p.m. Ridgeland town meeting, including first readings by title only for ordinances to amend the Moultrie Tract Development Agreement, the Planned Development District (PDD) plan for the Moultrie Tract, and to adopt a Multi-County Industrial Park (MCIP) and Fee in Lieu of Tax (FILOT) agreement for Nimitz Solar.

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