Representatives from Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr's offices along with several environmental groups gathered in Mount Olive Tuesday to tour the nearby Strata Solar farm.
The solar farm operates on land owned by the First Baptist Church of Mount Olive, and was originally constructed there in 2011.
Church Board of Trustees member Angelo San Fratello said the decision to rent the land to developer Birdseye Renewable Energy helped pull the church through difficult times in the recession.
"It was near the tail end of the recession, and needless to say we needed revenue," he said. "We were operating in the red, and this pulled God's house out of the red."
Dennis Atwood, pastor at First Baptist, said the solar farm fits into the mission of the church.
"This venture had never been a political project, from my perspective it's been a theological complement to our mission as a church," he said. "If something were to be done with that land that was not consistent with that mission, we would be out of step."
The land was left to First Baptist after church member James Everette Joyner passed away. Once Birdseye completed construction, the company sold the farm to Strata Solar, which operates and maintains it now.
Among the people touring the farm was Liz Kalies, director of science for the N.C. chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental charity organization. She was there to document how the land was being used.
"When it comes to solar fields, there are a lot of questions you have to ask," she said. "We wouldn't be against a solar field, but you have to know where do you put the field, how does it affect the surrounding area?"
Coming out to tours like this one are a way of having those questions answered, she said.
Brian Brown, with Sen. Tillis' office, agreed. He said that seeing the field first-hand was a good way to get educated about new technology.
"Solar is one of those emerging markets in the United States, and any time you can come out and learn about something like this it's a great opportunity," he said.
Other attendees included representatives from Sen. Burr's office and the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. The EDF coordinated the tour with First Baptist.
The group walked among the solar panels and learned about how they work, asking questions about anything from the individual construction of the panels to Strata Solar's business plans.
Riza Redd, Asset Management Manager for Strata Solar, led the tour. She said the company has fields set up all over the country, some of which are nearly five times the size of the 36-acre Mount Olive site.
That site is one of two in the area operated by Strata Solar.
San Fratello said that the solar farms have been a boon to the surrounding area.
"It's been good for Wayne County, it's been good for Mount Olive, and it's been good for the church," he said.