Robbins Taps Sun for Energy
Rooftops in Robbins are pointing the way to a sun-powered future.
One town commissioner is encouraging efforts to make Robbins a leader in "going green" - an impetus she believes will lead not only to a cleaner, safer environment but also to a more efficient and more prosperous Robbins.
Terri Holt is remodeling one of the old brick buildings in the heart of Robbins on the same block as the historic Village Theater. She has installed racks of photovoltaic panels on its flat roof. They collect energy from sunlight and turn it into electricity, which she then sells back to the power company.
"I'd love to see Robbins rediscover itself," Holt says. "I'd like for our town to be in the forefront for energy conservation, recycling and sustaining what we have to offer."
Around the corner and up the street, St. Joseph of the Pines' residential center, Providence Place, also uses solar power, with its own banks of photovoltaic panels bringing the power of the sun to the sockets on the wall.
Holt was turned on to the idea of renewable energy as a girl during a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida when she saw the energy meter at Epcot Center.
"I was 15," she says. "Epcot got me thinking."
She's been thinking ever since - still excited about a cleaner, more efficient earth. Holt lives in a straw house where she home-schools her daughter. On the Town Board, she encourages the town's policies to to keep growing greener.
Robbins started "going green" a few years ago when former Mayor Mickey Brown and others pitched in to save the annual Mid-Atlantic Star Party and worked toward preserving the clear, dark skies overhead from light pollution.
The town put in its bid to be the site for a new kind of generating plant that burns waste from poultry farms to generate electricity. Fibrowatt planned to build three poultry-litter power plants in the state. The company eventually decided to locate the plant elsewhere.
Despite the loss, their presentations created a greater awareness of the promise of renewable energy in the Robbins area.
Other aspects of downtown renewal are ongoing under Mayor Theron Bell and former Mayor Laura Ann Brady, who serve on the board of the Robbins Village Theater Foundation and are working to restore that large space as an entertainment magnet for Robbins.
Holt and other property owners on the Village Theater block have been refurbishing and restyling buildings that one day will be home to new businesses expected to benefit from increased show traffic.
She says Progress Energy pays her 19 cents a kilowatt hour for the power she gets free from the sun. It flows to a special "sell all" meter on the rear deck. Once the power passes that meter, it belongs to the power company, not her.
"The panels we have on the roof are like an extra tenant paying rent monthly," Holt says. "Except ... they don't take up any space in the building."
A second meter reads power used in her building itself. She pays Progress Energy 11 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity to light and heat or air condition the building.
Why would a company want to sell for a dime what costs it nearly twice that to buy? The reason is new state legislation requiring power companies get certain percentages of their power from renewable sources like the sun.
"They have to get 2 percent of the electricity they sell from solar power," Holt said.
To meet that quota, power companies are paying more to buy renewable power than they sell it for, all part of the state's effort to meet environmental goals that would reduce pollution from coal-fired plants.
It's a winning solution for Holt and other companies willing to make the investment, according to Holt's contractor, Ken Bonville, of Sandhills Energy. He points to a federal tax credit that can cover more than $10,000 of the initial cost.
"These systems have a 25-year warranty, but we expect them to have a 35 year lifetime," he says.
Unlike systems that charge a battery of batteries, this system feeds the grid instead.
"We are using the grid as the battery," Bonville says. "The advantage to Progress Energy is that - with enough solar energy - they won't have to turn on their peaking plants."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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