Among the tulip trees, red oaks and Carolina silverbells of Mt. Sterling, a peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stands a 60-ft communications tower.

The sole purpose of that electric line was to provide energy to the remote communications building, which was formerly used by firewatch personnel, to power a radio repeater relay for that region of the national park.

“Having the line going up the mountain for that long, through all that vegetation in the national park, there was a lot of reliability issues, and these issues were triggered when there was an outage,” said Sherif Abdelrazek, senior engineer at Duke Energy, the utility servicing the line.

“The radio repeater is not a huge consumer of electricity. It’s a very important component of our radio system, but you can imagine our monthly electric bill from Duke was not a big number,” said Mark Collins, environmental protection specialist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The 13 acres of land the power lines sat on belongs to the National Park Service, but Duke Energy was responsible for its maintenance.

The utility, in partnership with the National Park Service, was able to free 13 acres of Smoky Mountain forest of powerline by building a solar+storage microgrid instead. This gave the communications tower the power it needed to keep the radio on and also granted it energy independence.

Duke Energy hired Fluidic Energy as general contractor and Sky Renewable Energy and Industrial Solar Consulting as subcontractors for the project.