Bertie land leased to produce solar energy

Published 8:03 am Monday, September 30, 2013

WINDSOR – North Carolina probably isn’t the first state you think of when solar energy comes to mind.

Perhaps fewer would think of Green Energy occurring on a large scale in BertieCounty.

But it’s about to happen, and soon.

Thursday the Bertie County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting with the Windsor Town Commissioners and after a closed door session it was announced that the two have received a negotiated offer from Sunenergy1, LLC to lease lands owned jointly by the county and the town for developing and using solar photovoltaic electricity-generating facilities.

In short, once it is approved solar panels will be installed on just over 52 acres of land located off 214 Cooper Hill Road near the Cashie River.

The initial term of the offered lease is 15 years, with the possibility of three additional five-year terms for a total of 30 years.

The annual rent offered is $300 per acre for the initial term and $350 per year for the three extensions.

The joint venture will be one of nine new projects that Sunenergy1 has proposed over the past month.

Solar development is apparently growing by leaps and bounds in North Carolina.  Surprisingly, the Tar Heel state ranks second in the country to California for installed solar during the second quarter of 2013 according to an August report from a nationally-renowned industry analysis firm.

Duke Energy, the largest electric utility in the state, contracted Sunenergy1 last fall and the company constructed a solar farm in just 11 weeks at the Washington White Post project in Beaufort County.

Just this month, Duke Energy announced it will be adding to the Beaufort County facility located near Bath. Once the addition is complete, the solar farm will be the largest in the state.

Now Bertie County hopes the growth of its facility, once begun, will be on that scale.

“This will mean a great deal to our area,” said Windsor mayor Jim Hoggard. “They’re projecting approximately 200 construction jobs and that means they’ll be filling our restaurants and they’re trying to find places now for a lot of these workers to stay.

“They’re going to try to hire everyone they can from our local area, buy as much as they can from local merchants, and we are just very, very pleased to have them here,” Hoggard added.

Windsor, as well as the county, has been working to bring this project to fruition for about a year. Sunenergy1 is based in Mooresville in Iredell County, just outside Charlotte; and Bill Long, Executive vice president, was on hand Thursday when his company made the $25,437.75 deposit to the Board of Commissioners and the Town Council.

“We’ll hire 40-to-50 people locally and have about 200 of them working at one time,” said Long. “The economy will really trickle down.

“It’ll be a nice boom-time,” he added with a smile. “Everybody’ll have a good Christmas.”

The surge in solar activity statewide is credited in part to North Carolina’s renewable energy portfolio standard enacted six years ago. The standard requires investor-owned utility companies like Duke Energy and Dominion-North Carolina Power to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. North Carolina also offers attractive tax incentives.

The biggest reason for the boom could simply be increased interest from investors willing to support solar projects in a state where tax and utility programs seem relatively stable.