North Carolina Solar Farms Slowly Recovering From Florence

Source: By Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg • Posted: Monday, September 24, 2018

A dock sits damaged after Hurricane Florence hit in New Bern, North Carolina, on Sept. 20.Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg

North Carolina’s solar farms took a beating from Hurricane Florence and many of the power plants remain out of service, a week after the storm slammed into the second-biggest U.S. market.

About one-third of the 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity connected to Duke Energy Corp.’s system went down initially, according to Randy Wheeless, a utility spokesman. Almost 600 megawatts are still out of service, including in coastal counties that are contending with record flooding.

Florence was a Category 4 status at its peak, packing 130 mile-per-hour winds (210 kilometer-per-hour) two days before making landfall Sept. 14. That’s close to the threshold that newer solar farms are designed to withstand — 140 to 160-miles-per-hour. While the storm weakened by the time it hit North Carolina, the power plants still had to deal with the potential for flooding and downed power lines.

“It’s difficult to predict when all solar facilities will be back online,” Wheeless said. “The floodwaters are still going up in places.”

Some areas are still so flooded that operators haven’t been able to access solar farms. And being submerged for days can pose a problem for solar-farm components such as inverters, said Ben Gallagher, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Solar installations in North Carolina have surged in recent years. It has almost 5 gigawatts of capacity, the second-biggest state in the U.S. behind California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Strata Solar LLC operates 140 solar farms in North Carolina. While half were affected by Florence, all but 13 were back in service or will be soon as of Friday morning, according to Brian O’Hara, senior vice president of strategy.

“So far it seems like we weathered this storm quite well,” O’Hara said in an interview.