Mountain sunshine equals lots of electricity

NEWLAND, NC (WBTV) – It has been known as the Christmas tree capital in North Carolina and a favorite spot for tourists year round but now Avery County has something else to brag about, a massive solar farm that's producing enough electricity for 150 homes.

An energy company out of Cornelius bought several acres of a Christmas tree farm from grower Luke Henderson and built the solar facility on Trim Branch Road with thousands of panels on a sunny hillside.

Almost two dozen local people were hired by the panel installation company and officials say many have found permanent jobs in the industry as a result.

Henderson still has Christmas trees and has no plans of getting out of that business but when asked if he ever dreamed of the sight of gleaming panels across the hillside next to his farm his answer was simple, "Never."

The electricity produced goes directly into the power grid. Officials say it will supplement power that Mountain Electricity buys from other providers and will eventually make a profit for the energy company that owns the solar farm, O2 Energies.

The advantage, say experts, is that after the initial investment, which in this case was in the millions of dollars, the cost to maintain the facility is minimal.

The panels could provide electricity for as long as 40 years.