Business

SAS turns on solar power 'farm'

Posted December 17, 2008 2:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2008 7:37 a.m. EST

— North Carolina’s mandated march toward using more renewable energy supplies made a small but significant step forward this week.

Despite often cloudy and rainy weather, SAS literally turned on the five-acre solar panel built at its Cary campus and began feeding power to the Progress Energy grid. Progress is buying the energy, but neither company is disclosing the price.

The solar “farm,” which is a collection of panels that capture sunlight and convert its energy to electrical power, is the first Progress has brought online.

State law requires Progress and other utilities to begin producing power from renewable sources. Progress Energy is exploring solar, wind, biowaste and other options to produce power from renewable sources. By 2012, companies have to get 3.5 percent of all retail sales from so-called renewables. The requirement  jumps to 12.5 percent by 2021.

Duke Energy is also involved in numerous solar and wind projects.

Another solar farm is being built in Wilmington, and scores of others are under consideration, according to Progress.

“This is a huge milestone,” said Progress spokesperson Mike Hughes. “We truly need a 100 projects like it or to build on this and get even larger projects.”

The photovoltaic site, built by SunPower Corp., has a capacity of 1 megawatt and is expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of power a year. That’s enough to provide electricity for a little over 100 homes, based on the average customer use of 14,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, Hughes said.

In the grand scheme of power generation, the SAS project is minuscule. Currently, Progress has 12,400 megawatts of conventional generating capacity in the Carolinas alone.

The solar panels are able to track the sun, but they are expected to produce power for 16 to 20 percent of each day, he added. SunPower built a similar site in New Jersey.

Regardless of size or capacity, SAS Chief Executive Officer Jim Goodnight hailed the sight’s official generation of power.

“In less than a year, this plan went from idea to reality,” he said in a statement. “I hope people will learn from our experience that sustainable energy is within reach and makes bottom-line business sense.”

SAS recently announced plans for a new office building that will be designed to save energy. The company also plans other campus upgrades to reduce energy use.

The world’s largest privately held software company has not allowed visitors to the solar farm and also declined to allow photographs.

“Sorry, the site is not going to be available for public viewing for a few weeks,” SAS spokesperson Dave Thomas said. “I know that seems odd considering that we issued a release, but we just want to have it presentable before we bring people out.”