By Wes Wolfe / Staff Writer
Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 21:13 PM.
It’s clean and green vs. dirty and cheap.
And then there’s the scenic beauty thing.
The battle over renewable energy and the resources committed to it stretches from the General Assembly in Raleigh to a farmer’s field on Rouse Road.
Conservatives in the legislature are pushing a bill that would eliminate the state’s renewable energy law, which passed a House committee on an 11-10 vote Wednesday. The purpose of the law was to make energy providers generate at least 12.5 percent of their output through biomass, solar or wind energy by 2021.
Millions of dollars in tax credits are given to further that end. Tax credits could go to a proposed 20-megawatt solar farm on the east side of Rouse Road, north of Carey Road.
The $64 million project comes from the Sustainable Energy Community Development Company, which seeks to energize the economies of economically depressed, rural areas through green energy.
Documents supplied to state regulators by the company suggest the local economic impact should exceed $21 million, and SECDC Chief Operating Officer Shawn LeMond said it could go as high as $40 million.
According to SECDC numbers, there would be a $7.8 million tax base added, with the site generating $117,000 in annual property, service district and fire district taxes.
Jobs would be created, and local businesses would be used.
“So many unemployed, that have been unemployed the longest, are out of the construction industry,” LeMond said. “The construction of a solar farm is simply a big construction project. I don’t want to pull anybody’s leg — there’s not long-term employment there, or anything like that. But, there is a good six months for 75-100 people, ultimately.”
He added, “Typically 75-100 businesses will be involved, providing fuel oil, rental outhouses, food — that’s where the $3 million or so gets left in the community.”
But the prospect of 72 acres of twinkling photovoltaic arrays doesn’t leave some in the area with the warm-and-fuzzies.
Ned Stroud lives in the neighborhood across Rouse Road from the field, and said he and some of his neighbors aren’t happy with the project.
“You don’t want to look out from your front door and see an industrial facility,” Stroud said.
He likened it to a recent defeated proposal to place apartments near Lenoir Memorial Hospital, when people in opposition claimed the project was simply out of place in the area.
“There, they were trying to put housing in a medical park area, and here they’re trying to put industrial in a residential area,” Stroud said.
The land, however, is zoned in such a way as to allow a light industrial operation like a solar farm to locate there. SECDC would need approval from the City of Kinston, though, and that process has yet to occur.
“What exactly is the city’s role in this process, and how does it benefit, or not benefit, the City of Kinston residents and the City of Kinston customers?” Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy asked. “I’m just not clear enough on that just yet.”
Murphy said he’s OK with solar power, but noted it comes at a higher cost than other methods. He’s also unsure of how the solar farm will integrate into the city’s power system, and what it means for city electricity customers.
If the plan comes to fruition, power would be sold to the ElectriCities group, of which Kinston is a member. By plugging in to the grid at the city, LeMond said, there would be a cost savings because of energy savings.
When electricity moves from the source to the outlet, energy is lost along the length of the transmission. The closer the source is to the outlet, less power is lost. LeMond said there would be economic benefits to City of Kinston rate-payers, but conceded the amount is hard to quantify.
Currently, SECDC plans to have the solar farm operational by Dec. 31. It’s meant to provide power for at least 20 years.
There will be a public hearing on the project on April 18 at 7 p.m. at the Kinston City Council chambers. LeMond also asked those with questions or concerns to contact him at 704-340-2544.
Wes Wolfecan be reached at 252-559-1075 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WolfeReports.