NC's largest proposed solar farm to cost $173M

A proposed solar farm billing itself as the nation's biggest east of the Rocky Mountains is ready for construction near Fayetteville, pending one detail: $173 million in financing.

The planned 78.5 megawatt solar far would be built in Hope Mills, about 75 miles south of Raleigh. The site was a cornfield last year and could become a photovoltaic meadow if financing comes through.

The developer, Principal Solar of Dallas, Tex., recently acquired the rights to the project and said it expects to secure financing within 60 days. Principal CEO Michael Gorton said Wednesday that Principal has not built any solar farms in North Carolina and acquired the Hope Mills project last month from Innovative Solar Systems.

The financial terms are not public, Gorton said, but if Principal fails to secure financing the project will revert back to Innovative.

The Hope Mills solar farm was approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission in September and signed a 15-year contract in November to sell its electrical output to Duke Energy Progress. Innovative, based Fletcher, near Asheville, shepherded the project through the regulatory process.

Another large project is under development in Duplin County by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar and is expected to produce 65 megawatts of power later this year.

With 722 megawatts of installed solar capacity last year, North Carolina is ranked third in the nation for total solar farm development by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The nation's largest operating solar farms, in California, have an output of 550 megawatts.