S.P., Village Eye Solar Energy Prospects
Investors are being sought for the rooftop installation of solar panels in Southern Pines and Pinehurst that would reduce the reliance in each municipality on electricity produced by fossil fuels.
Sandhills Energy, a division of Bonville Construction Co. Inc. in Pinehurst, is spearheading the independent projects because nonprofits cannot take advantage of available tax credits and the few grants that are available still require a substantial investment.
"We are hoping that people will get enthused about helping their town," said Ken Bonville, owner of Bonville Construction. "What we're looking for in an investor is someone motivated by more than money."
Bonville presented his concept at a May 23 work session of the Southern Pines Town Council, which unanimously supported considering the project should an investor be found.
"We don't see a downside on the surface," Town Manager Reagan Parsons said last week. "Sandhills Energy wants to look at town-owned buildings to measure their potential for solar panels. The Public Works Annex is the only building under consideration right now."
Bonville estimates that it would cost $360,000 to install 312 solar panels in a landscape pattern on the Annex roof. The panels would annually generate 112,000 kilowatt hours of power and $20,400 in revenue.
The Pinehurst proposal calls for a smaller solar panel system to be installed on Barn 9 at the harness track.
The village applied last year for a $130,000 energy efficiency block grant from the state to help pay for the installation but was denied.
"It's definitely something that we have explored," said Molly Goodman, a senior planner for the village. "We'll see what, if anything, pans out. It's not a done deal. There are still a lot of components the village would have to work out, and the barn is in our historic district."
Bonville noted that the panels have a 25-year warranty, and Sandhills Energy monitors each system for five years "at no cost to the customer."
"The system is so smart that it troubleshoots itself," he said. "If there's an issue, the solar panel will e-mail me, tell me what's wrong and tell me what part has already been ordered. It's incredible."
Under each public-private initiative, the investor owns the system for about nine years to make a small profit, take advantage of current tax laws and credits, and give the system to the nonprofit in return for being allowed to use its physical plant. The nonprofit is required to provide property and liability insurance, and broadband Internet access so the system can be monitored.
"The town is certainly interested in renewable sources of energy," Parsons said. "There's the potential for a long-term revenue source that doesn't involve a tax or a fee to our residents. If Sandhills Energy can find an investor, we're all ears and very open to negotiating the specifics."
Parsons added that the "green power" movement appears to be growing among municipalities.
"It's starting to pop up in trade magazines, newsletters and professional conference agendas," he said.
Bonville Construction diversified into renewable energy before the recession, which is proving to be a savvy move.
"Solar has become a bigger business for us than construction," Bonville said. "We still love construction. It's just really slow right now."
Sandhills Energy has completed about 15 projects in the region, including the Keller Williams Realty building in Southern Pines, a commercial building in Robbins, the Service Threads building in Laurinburg, horse farms in Vass and Carthage, and private residences at the Country Club of North Carolina, Fairwoods on 7 and Seven Lakes West.
"With these systems, it's like getting an annuity in which you get your money back within three years if you're a commercial entity and five years if it's for your residence," Bonville said. "Just five years ago, there was a lot of resistance to solar panels. Now, people are helping America and the environment by producing energy generated by the sun.
"We're really hoping that someone will step up in Southern Pines and Pinehurst."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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