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Georgia’s largest private solar farm provides electricity to Blairsville homes

Site produces 1 megawatt per year

POSTED: March 3, 2011 11:00 p.m.
/For The Times

A solar panel faces the south on the Blairsville solar farm owned by ESA Renewables. The farm produces enough energy to power 122 area homes.

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If you live in Blairsville, part of your home's electricity may be provided by solar energy, thanks to a recently opened solar farm on Ed King Road.

The farm, built and maintained by ESA Renewables, a company headquartered in Castellon, Spain, is privately owned and takes up 5 acres, making it the largest privately held ground-mounted solar farm in Georgia.

Rows of solar panels, facing south, collect the sun's energy when possible and convert it into electricity that directly affects the surrounding region.

The Blairsville site produces 1 megawatt per year.

That's enough to provide power for 122 houses, according to Javier Latre, director of engineering for ESA Renewables.

"The reason for choosing the Blairsville area, is because it's under the TVA program," Latre said.

"(The) TVA gives you the possibility to do a solar installation connected into the grid."

The Tennessee Valley Authority, through Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, purchases the energy from the company through a program called Generation Partners, which pays residents and small businesses a premium for producing renewable power.

"Solar power is clean. There's no emissions. The fuel is free; it's the sun. And the majority of the systems in the TVA's Generation Partners program are solar," said Mike Bradley, a TVA spokesman.

Latre said he believes the added energy provided by the farm could lessen energy bills for area residents, although he said it's complicated to assess the total cost of energy provided by the TVA, so it's difficult to measure solar energy's impact on it.

But the cost of installing the panels is higher than that of traditional power plants.

"The cost of installing the facility, nowadays, is not as cheap as to produce electricity in some conventional sources," he said, adding that the price of installation lessens each year.

Direct costs may be hard to measure, but Latre said other benefits, including less pollution and a less hazardous way of producing electricity, make a positive impact on the community.

"A solar panel doesn't have moving parts, doesn't have high voltage, doesn't have anything (dangerous)," he said, adding that the safety of solar panels make them a good option for homes or businesses.

"The good thing about solar is that you can produce power in the same place that you consume it," he said.

How it works

"What we do is, we arrange the panels. We connect them with each other to form strings. The strings will connect a number of panels in a series," Latre said.

"The panel has a very simple look. It's just a flat, crystal area."

The Blairsville farm has 308 "strings" with 14 panels each.

"Inside the panels, you have cells. Those cells are made from silicon," Latre said.

"Basically, silicon is the most common material in the world. Sand, from the beach, is made of silicon. You transform that material that is so common in the world, and you purify it to make cells. Then, you put 60 cells in a panel and combine them together to be able to produce electricity."

When the sun hits the panel, the process begins.

"The electricity is produced as soon as we have solar radiation into the panel," said Latre.

"That silicon will have the electrons move inside it, and if you connect that to a source — if you connect them together — then those electrons will move around the system, and that's what produces electricity."

Latre said whether it's a sunny day or a cloudy one can affect production — it simply stops if clouds go by — but the amount still averages about 1 megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) per year.

The farm works on its own with few employees.

"We just have a couple of people to do maintenance
all year round, but they won't have to be there every day," he said.

The Generation Partners program continues to grow, Bradley said, which means more homes are moving toward solar power.

"In that program, we've seen tremendous growth," said Bradley.

"In the last year, it's gone from 5 megawatts total to just over 65 megawatts," he said, adding that the TVA had to "pause" the program for two weeks last June to catch up with program applications.



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