LAURINBURG — Throughout the state of North Carolina over the past decade, there has been an 82,514 percent increase in the amount of energy it gets from the sun. Scotland County has played a part in that increase.
“Personally, I’m an advocate of renewable energy from an ecological standpoint,” said Whit Gibson, chairman of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners. “But there is still a feeling among the board that we need to remain careful about how we allow that to expand in the county.”
Gibson wasn’t sure how much acreage in Scotland County is currently being utilized for solar farms, but North Carolina as a whole ranks No. 3 in the country for solar energy production growth and No. 13 for improvements in electric energy efficiency, according to Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.
“Every day, there’s more evidence that a cleaner, healthier economy powered by renewable energy is within our reach,” said Drew Ball, director of the Center. “The progress we’ve made in the last decade on renewable energy and clean energy technologies, like battery storage and electric cars, should give North Carolinians confidence that we can take clean energy to the next level. As this report shows, it’s the right thing to do if we want a stronger economy and healthier families across our state.”
The ongoing growth in North Carolina, including Scotland County, is being touted throughout the industry.
“North Carolina has seen significant progress on clean energy and is now a leading state on multiple fronts,” said Jennifer Mundt, energy director at the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “But, in order to ensure a healthy future for our children, we must continue to lead by quickly transitioning North Carolina to a future powered by renewable energy.”
But “quick” isn’t something Gibson and the county commissioners are ready to allow just yet.
“Solar farms aren’t always popular,” he said. “The board doesn’t believe these farms impose inherent problems in most areas, but we do think there are some areas they souldn’t be located.
“For the most part, we’ve been happy with how things have gone (with solar farms in Scotland County),” Gibson added. “But I do know some residents remain concerned, especially within the city of Laurinburg.”
In April 2017, the county approved between 30 and 35 acres of land on Fieldcrest Road, owned by McLean Homestead LLC, for a solar farm project totaling $10 million. Birdseye Renewable Energy also has a 20-megawatt plant in Scotland County that produces electricity for Duke Energy.
“The beauty of solar is that it’s a tried-and-true technology,” Brian Bednar, president of Birdseye Renewable Energy, told the Laurinburg Rotary Club last year. “Albert Einstein won his Nobel Prize for figuring out that, when sunlight strikes certain substrates, it frees an electron, so in the case of a solar panel, a photo, which is energy from the sun, strikes crystalline silicon, knocks loose an electron, which is then channeled down the wires and become electricity … it’s a pretty straightforward technology, we know how it works and it’s been worked on since the early days of the space race.”
But solar energy isn’t the only renewable energy projects growing in North Carolina. According to “Renewables on the Rise,” a report by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, the state ranks No. 10 for electric vehicle recharging stations, No. 17 for electric vehicles sold, No. 20 for battery storage capacity and No. 30 for wind.
“Solar is in many ways the state’s most robust rural economic development policy, explained Steve Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center located at N.C. State University. “It’s led to hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties across the state.”
As for the immediate future, Gibson said there had been talk about a potential solar farm in the Wagram area, but nothing concrete has come forward.
“Of course, anything like that would have to come through our zoning department,” Gibson said, “and I’m not aware of any plans that are pending.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]