Farming Sunlight

North Carolina has long been known for farming tobacco, soybeans, cotton and corn. But now, the state is gaining a reputation for farming sunlight.

North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. (behind California) for installed solar capacity. The flat, treeless farmland that is relatively prevalent in the Tar Heel state provides a perfect setting for full-scale utility solar solutions. Solar farms, in many cases, “are replacing cropland that doesn’t generate enough income from traditional farming,” according to the NC Clean Energy website,

Strata Solar, LLC has a goal of keeping family farmland in the family while generating new revenue and energy independence for generations to come. Based in Chapel Hill, NC, Strata Solar is a leading turnkey provider of solar energy in Nort­h America and is North Carolina’s largest installer of utility- and commercial-scale solar systems. “We can lease the land—30 or 40 acres—from the farmers themselves,” explained Strata Solar project manager Jeremy Spaeth. “This can be a real boost to landowners. Local towns get a tax benefit from that, too,”

Strata Solar develops and builds solar facilities throughout the U.S. The company has installed enough infrastructure to produce 1 gigawatt of solar energy; that’s enough to power up to 750,000 homes and roughly the amount of energy produced by two coal-fired plants*. The company has another 3 gigawatts already commissioned and in the works, and, depending on the site, builds facilities for specific clients or directly for utility companies themselves, said Mr. Spaeth.

McKim & Creed has worked with Strata Solar for several years, providing surveying services for nearly 50 sites ranging in size from 50 to 500 acres. We also have been furnishing site/civil services as well, and have assisted on site/civil construction plans and permitting services for five sites in North Carolina. “We’ve used McKim & Creed for a number of years for surveying, and have been happy. That evolved into site development and permitting from the civil side,” said Mr. Spaeth.

“Helping companies like Strata Solar provide clean energy sources, and helping farmers cultivate a new crop—sunlight—feeds directly into McKim & Creed’s vision of ‘people helping people,’” said Grant Livengood, PE, who oversees McKim & Creed’s civil/site engineering services. “We are happy to be part of a team that helps families, businesses and utilities farm sunshine.”


“Farmland has become fertile territory for clean energy, as solar and wind developers in North America, Europe and Asia seek more flat, treeless expanses to build. That’s also been a boon for struggling U.S. family farms that must contend with floundering commodity prices.”— “Solar Power More Lucrative Than Crops at Some US Farms” by Joe Ryan (Bloomberg), published in Renewable Energy World, April 5, 2016 (Photo courtesy of Strata Solar)


Demand for solar power is increasing as companies establish their own goals regarding clean energy generation. For example, Strata Solar is building 80 megawatts of solar capacity in Virginia to support The total 208-MW project is scheduled for completion the end of this year. (Photo courtesy of Strata Solar)


Thirty- to 40-acre farms can produce about 5 megawatts of clean energy, which can service approximately 800 homes.