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State's Largest Private Solar Array Goes Live on NCSU Campus

Richard Harkrader, owner of Durham-based Carolina Solar Energy, has waited three years for this day.

After many lessons learned, the solar project his company began in 2004 is finally up and running on the North Carolina State University (NCSU) campus next to the RBC Center in Raleigh, making it the largest privately financed solar photovoltaic (PV) array in North Carolina.

The 75.6 kilowatt (kW) system, comprising 432 ground-mounted solar panels, was dedicated on Jan. 15, at a ceremony hosted by NC GreenPower and NCSU. The power it generates is sold to Progress Energy.

"I believe consumer demand for green power will quickly outpace supply in our state," said Harkrader. "One of our goals with this project is to show that solar power is feasible on a large scale right here in North Carolina."

Until now, the state's primary investors in solar energy projects have been homeowners, environmentalists and a handful of large corporations or government agencies. Cost is often cited as one of the major prohibiting factors.

But the barriers that the industry once faced are now being overcome, thanks to available federal and state tax incentives, as well as demand created by NC GreenPower, a non-profit program that enables electric customers to support cleaner energy options across the state through voluntary contributions on their electric bill. Today, the program supports a number of green power projects, including more than 100 solar energy sites statewide.

"It's an exciting time to be in the renewable energy business," said Robert Koger, president of NC GreenPower. "And we're very pleased to be a part of the success story of green power in North Carolina."

The site dedicated Tuesday is located on land provided by NCSU and will serve as both an educational project for students and a visible reminder of the changing landscape of energy. The dedication also is part of the University's "Year of Energy," a special year-long focus on energy-related issues and practices.

"In setting energy as our priority and focus, NCSU is demonstrating a commitment to our land grant mission of meeting the needs of the citizens of North Carolina," said Chancellor James Oblinger.

Meeting the needs of North Carolina residents is also a priority for Progress Energy, which purchases the electricity generated by the solar array.

"We are focused on a balanced approach that includes investments in new energy-efficiency programs, alternative and renewable energy technologies and state-of-the-art power plants," said Progress Energy Carolinas president and chief executive officer Lloyd Yates. "This solar array is part of the solution."

While all in attendance celebrated the significance of the NCSU solar array, Carolina Solar Energy's founder stressed that more work remains to be done.

"Photovoltaic solar technology has come a long way in the past few decades," Harkrader said. "There's no doubt solar power is becoming a viable investment in North Carolina, and will improve the larger projects we build."

The NCSU solar array is the first in a series of projects that Carolina Solar Energy plans to build. Future plans include several 100 kW systems hosted by businesses, schools, shopping centers and government facilities across the state.

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