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Chapel Hill company to build Amazon solar farm

Richmond, Virginia, power utility Dominion is expanding its solar alliance with Amazon Web Services, adding 180 megawatts of solar capacity in Virginia to support Amazon.com. And it’s big news for the Chapel Hill company that’s been tapped to build 80 megawatts worth of solar farms: Strata Solar.

Brian O’Hara, senior vice president of strategy and government affairs for the firm, says it’s huge for Strata. At the end of 2015, the company had built about 840 megawatts of capacity over its lifetime, he explains.

ReadStrata Solar CEO Markus Wilhelm's go-big-or-go-home strategy

“This is a pretty substantial portion of our business,” he says. “And it’s in a state where we hope to do a lot more.”

The partnership marks the first time Strata has built for Dominion, and the first time its solar capacity has been developed specifically to support a corporation such as Amazon.

O’Hara says signs in the industry point to predictions that Amazon could be the first corporate customer tied to a project like this for Strata. “You see this from big data center companies like Amazon and Google and Apple, but you’re also seeing this across the whole Fortune 500 spectrum,” he says. “You’re going to see more of it.”

If all goes well, the new solar capacity is expected to enter service in late 2017.

The new solar developments Strata has worked on will expand Dominion’s solar fleet to 1,400 megawatts, including 434 megawatts in North Carolina and Virginia. Specifically, Dominion is acquiring four 20-megawatt projects from Virginia Solar, developing those facilities in Buckingham, New Kent, Powhatan and Sussex counties through an engineering, procurement and construction contract with Strata Solar. Dominion is also acquiring a 100-megawatt development from Community Energy Solar, to be developed in Southhampton with Signal Energy serving as the contractor for the project. All five will be part of Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East.

Another solar facility – this one 80 megawatts and in Accomack County – went into service last month, also part of the Amazon-Dominion alliance.

Strata, which has more than 300 employees in addition to more than 1,500 construction workers in the field, is just one of North Carolina’s connections to Amazon’s sustainable efforts. Amazon will also buy energy from a wind farm that Iberdrola is building near Elizabeth City in eastern North Carolina. That massive farm has 104 turbines, more than 70 of which are already built. The 208-megawatt project is on track to be up and running by the end of the year, the site lead has said.