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Solar energy gaining in popularity

Solar Energy and the installation of solar farms are gaining in popularity not just in Bladen County but in the eastern part of North Carolina.

North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation in solar power, said Randy Wheeless of Duke Energy.

“Eastern North Carolina seems to be where solar is right now,” said Wheeless.

However, according to WRAL, the General Assembly of North Carolina has chosen to allow state incentives for solar farms to expire. According to WRAL, the industry received more than $281 million in incentives from the state between 2010 to 2012.

There are two solar projects are currently under construction in the county –one on US 701 South and one on NC 210 West.

Bladen County Manager Greg Martin said that solar energy is a win-win for everyone.

“It’s a win-win because it is helping to provide greener energy source and it is positive for the landowner as it provides a lease rate,” said Martin.

Martin said that solar farms are taxable by a rate of 20 percent of the value of the project.

He said, for example, if a solar project is valued at $16 million, then the taxable value of that project is about $3 million and with depreciation that depreciated value would become about $2 million.

Wheeless said that statewide Duke Energy is looking for ways to expand their renewable energy portfolio.

“Solar in North Carolina seems to be the most cost effective renewable resource,” said Wheeless.

He pointed out that in the Midwest the most cost effective renewable energy resource is wind power.

Wheeless said that North Carolina is the only state in the south that actually has a renewable energy portfolio standard.  He said currently, that standard is 6 percent but that standard is projected to increase to 12 ½ percent by 2021.

“So obviously, that makes Duke motivated to build and acquire solar from others,” said Wheeless.

He added that North Carolina is ideal for the development of solar energy.

“When you look at the state, especially eastern North Carolina, there are large land parcels that may have been in the past used for farming and the farmer wants to do something else. It makes sense to lease it to a developer or Duke energy,” said Wheeless.

He said that the cost to construct a solar farm has decreased over the years.

Bladen County is home to several solar farms and some that are currently under construction as well.

Wheeless said one of the largest in the area belongs to Duke Energy and is known as the Fayetteville solar facility. It is located on 120 acres of land in the vicinity of the DuPont Fayetteville Works plant.

Wheeless said the Fayetteville farm is set to come online later this month or early in January.

The solar farm will be able to generate 23 megawatts of power or about enough energy to operate about 5,000 homes, said Wheeless.

He said that solar farms also require little infrastructure and have about a 25 to 30 year life expectancy.  Wheeless said that solar farms are also low maintenance and can be monitored remotely for problems that need to be addressed.

“Most of the cost is in the capital costs such as the land, the components and solar panels,” said Wheeless.

Dawson Singletary of Bladenboro owns the land on which the first solar project was erected in Bladen County.

“Mine was the first one in Bladen County. It wasn’t the first one looked at but it was the first one built,” said Singletary.

Singletary said that about six years ago he was suffering from some health issues and had reached a point where he could not walk.

Singletary said he was seeking a way to accumulate some income and had contacted a realtor about the possibility of selling some of his farm land. He said that the offers ranged from $2,000 to $3,000 per acre and Singletary said after carefully thinking it over, he decided that selling the land wasn’t what he wanted to do.

Singletary explained that the land belonged to his great-great grandfather and he wanted to preserve it for his grandchildren.

He said that eventually Strata Solar approached him about possibly leasing some of the land for a solar farm.  Singletary said after several months of negotiations, they arrived at an agreement.

Singletary said after he signed the necessary documents about nine months later, the company began construction and the solar farm came online in 2013.

He said the solar farm covers about 25 acres of land and generates enough electricity to power 754 homes.

Since that time, Singletary said his health has improved and he has been asked to speak to various groups on behalf of Strata Solar. 

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