Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Daimler Trucks North America Freightliner manufacturing plant in Cleveland is partnering with Duke Energy on a solar farm.
The 1,560 solar panels Duke Energy installed in the front yard of the large plant have been collecting energy from the sun since December 2010. Jason Walls, spokesperson for the energy company, said the panels generate about 360 kilowatts of energy, enough to power 38 average-sized homes.
Duke Energy signed a 25-year lease with Daimler Trucks North America to house the solar panels. The plant was one of 18 sites across North Carolina selected for a solar farm to generate power to help Duke Energy meet its residential energy commitment.
“It’s part of our plan to comply with North Carolina law,” Walls said. The state’s renewable energy standard requires each public utility to meet at least 12.5 percent of its customer needs through new renewable energy sources or energy efficiency measures by 2021.

Sandra Carter, environmental engineering manager for Daimler Trucks North America, said the company is dedicated to being environmentally responsible. “We look for ways to do things to prepare for the future,” she said. “The solar panels were a nice opportunity as they also provided a forum for educating the public and making people more aware of the possibilities of renewable energy.”
Carter said Daimler Trucks North America has a longstanding relationship with Duke Energy. So when officials with the power utility announced the program to build and install solar electricity on customers’ rooftops and grounds, she said, “we thought it would be a good way to put that partnership to work for the awareness and exploration of renewable energy.”
Thomas Built Buses, another Daimler Trucks North America plant, located in High Point, was also selected for 1,690 solar panels projected to power 41 homes annually. Carter said the two North Carolina sites are pilot projects for Daimler Trucks North America in terms of renewable energy.
Walls said Duke Energy announced the program in 2009 as part of a $50 million investment and asked interested customers to apply. Among the criteria were customer interest, ready access to the electrical grid, the solar productivity potential based on geographic placement and whether the building was in a position to maximize the solar panels.
“We were also looking for rooftops that were less than five years in age,” he said. “There were some other design factors as well.”
The Freightliner Trucks plant location not only met the criteria, Walls said, but was a natural fit for the program because of the large amount of space and Daimler Trucks North America’s strong relationship with Duke Energy. He said the Freightliner Trucks plant is also an important part of the Cleveland community.
Roger Nielsen, chief operating officer of Daimler Trucks North America, and Carter were among the company officials who spoke at a recent Switch On ceremony at Freightliner to commemorate the partnership with Duke Energy.
Cleveland Mayor John I. Steele Jr., who also participated in the ceremony, said the solar farm not only benefits the town by saving energy but may inspire residents to do their part in conserving energy in their homes. Some might even consider using solar panels in future building projects, he said.
When the panels were first installed, he said they generated a lot of talk among townspeople. “They wanted to know what they were for,” he said. “When they’ve been told, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea.'”