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Solar farms bright spot in economy, environment

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Solar farms cropping up around southern Nash County are good for the economy and environment, according to local officials and a statewide conservancy group.

“In my opinion, solar farms have been an asset to Nash County,” said Adam Tyson, the county’s planning director. “They increase the tax base without creating additional demand for county services, they allow property owners to make a profitable use of their land without irreparably changing it and they produce a clean, renewable form of energy that we can all benefit from.”

Southern Nash County is home to the largest solar farm in the county, a 361-acre sunlight-to-energy facility named Brantley Farm, which is under construction on Frazier Road outside Spring Hope.

A massive solar farm is planned across the road. Known as Phobos Solar, the 80 megawatt 692-acre facility dwarfs all the other half-dozen such facilities in southern Nash County.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Nash County native, recently committed to reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2005 levels, in part by using more clean energy like solar.

While some residents have complained about the facilities being located in their communities, elected leaders and utility experts should continue to embrace solar energy on the basis of its environmental, social and economic benefits, according to a recent study focusing on rooftop solar panels but acknowledging solar farms as well. The study was released by Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.

“Power from the sun is a boon to the environment, protects our health from dirtier power options and gives us a shot at leaving our kids a better world. We need to appreciate what solar energy is really worth, and base our public policies on it,” said Susan Rakov, chairwoman of the center’s clean energy program.

The new report contends that energy policies should account for the full suite of benefits associated with solar energy. Solar adds value to the grid by limiting the need to generate power at fossil fuel plants and to make costly investments in new power capacity, distribution and transmission. Solar energy can make prices more stable, improve reliability and reduce environmental compliance costs, the study found.

Other than Monday’s action on Phobos, the Nash County Board of Commissioners’ most recent action related to solar farms was granting a six-month extension on July 8 for a conditional use permit issued for the proposed Higgins Solar facility on Simmons Road near Castalia.

It’s possible other additional proposed projects located within county municipalities exist that may not have progressed to the construction stage, Tyson said.

All the proposed projects have at least a zoning approval. The solar farms in southern Nash County fall under county planning jurisdiction except one, a 26-acre facility on Rockwool Street in Spring Hope, Tyson said.

Duke Energy, which buys the energy from the farms, sees solar power as a great complement to its overall energy mix in North Carolina, said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless.

“We own and operate 40 solar farms in the state, including a large facility in Elm City and solar farms in Battleboro and Whitakers,” Wheeless said. “We also purchase power from hundreds of facilities owned by other developers, including 15 in Nash County. Worth noting is that North Carolina is No. 2 in the nation for solar power output.”

Southern Nash Solar

Following is a list of all operational solar farms in southern Nash County in order of construction:

• Sandy Cross Solar, 12 acres at 2999 Lewis Road near Elm City.

• Tracy Solar, 54 acres at 9818 Winters Road near Bailey.

• Chei Solar, 26 acres at 2296 Whitley Wilder Loop Road near Middlesex.

• Nash 97 Solar, 38 acres at 11250 N.C. 97 near Middlesex.

• Kojak Farm, 28 acres at 9360 Pace Road near Bailey.

• Nash 97 Solar 2, 76 acres at 3485 Rocky Cross Road near Middlesex.

Also, Sabattus Solar, 31 acres at 7211 Mount Pleasant Road near Bailey is under construction. And Spring Hope Solar 2, 53 acres at Frazier and Worth roads, and Spring Hope Solar 3, 43 acres on Frasier Road, both near Spring Hope, have been proposed.

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