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Clarendon's new crop: Solar energy

  • Updated

The meaning of farming is going to be changing in Clarendon County.

It will still mean growing cotton, tobacco, corn and soybeans, but it will also mean producing solar energy. A lot of it.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s office has announced that Adger Solar plans to invest $200 million in two separate solar farm projects in Clarendon. The promise of new jobs, tax revenue and clean power for the local community is good news all around for a county where economic development and job creation are experiencing a welcome resurgence.

And the significant step toward renewable energy speaks well of South Carolina in general.

The first of the two 72 megawatt (MW) solar farms is expected to be up and running by the end of 2018. Together the farms will generate enough electricity to supply about 25,000 homes on an average annual basis.

Central South Carolina Alliance Chairman Mike Brenan said the Clarendon farms will be “the largest solar energy project to date in central South Carolina. ... Clean, affordable and reliable energy will support our growing population for many, many years to come.”

Indeed, the Solar Energy Industries Association recently reported that South Carolina, which had been among the states with the smallest solar energy production, is improving. It has jumped from No. 36 for annual state solar photovoltaic installation in 2015 to No. 9 in the second quarter of 2016. South Carolina ranks behind Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, North Carolina and California for installation.

The state had 53.02 megawatts of installed solar capacity in the first half of 2016, compared to 4.2 MW installed in all of 2015.

“South Carolina is not one of the bigger states, and the total capacity that we are talking about is not that big by comparison; but the percentage of growth is huge and it positions the state to be a national leader in terms of solar energy,” according to Dan Whitten, vice president of communication for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Utility companies in South Carolina saw the biggest increase in solar installation, but residential solar installations also jumped significantly. The rapid growth has been attributed to the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, which was passed unanimously by the Legislature in 2014. The act allows residential and commercial consumers to lease solar systems, electric utility companies to get power from independent renewable installations and net-metering rates to be updated.

Approving it was one of the Legislature’s most praiseworthy accomplishments that year. Experts predict production will continue to grow dramatically.

Adger’s Clarendon announcement is clearly part of that expected — and welcome — surge. Bobby Hitt, secretary of Commerce, said the investment will “further strengthen South Carolina’s growing reputation in the area of renewable energy. Providing both environmental and economic impacts, I’m proud to welcome Adger Solar to Clarendon County and look forward to growing this terrific partnership.”

Adger, which has been active in southeastern United States since early 2014, is a clean energy development company focused on producing lower-cost, utility-scale solar-electric generating facilities. It has six developments under way in six different South Carolina counties.

Solar energy production is a clean, forward-thinking industry that benefits the state. And Clarendon County is a good place for Adger to expand.

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