Solar grid proposed for the Smokies

A plan to replace a 3.5-mile overhead power line with a solar array to deliver energy to communications equipment atop Mount Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open for public comment through Dec. 13.

The existing overhead line extends from the park boundary at N.C. 284, Mount Sterling Road, to the Mount Sterling Fire Lookout Tower in Haywood County. According to a press release from Duke Energy, which proposed the project, replacing the power line with solar panels would allow about 13 acres of park land currently maintained as a utility corridor to be returned to their natural state.

The proposed array would consist of 30 panels covering an area about 40 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10.5 feet tall at the highest point, with current estimates showing that fewer than 10 trees would need to be cleared. The solar panels would be powered by a zinc-air battery to create a micro-grid, meaning that power supply to the communications tower would be available independently of the status of the overall grid system. While Duke Energy has conducted a number of microgrid research projects, this would be the company’s first outside the research realm.

Public comments can be submitted by following the link titled “Mt. Sterling Sustainable Energy Project” at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm or by mail to Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

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