An Interesting New Idea Under the Sun
A town doesn’t have to be a counterculture colony of tree-huggers like, say, a Carmel, Calif., to get excited about green power.
So far, the word here may not exactly be “excited” just yet, but both the town of Southern Pines and the village of Pinehurst are definitely interested — as they should be — in exploring public-private partnerships involving the generation of solar power on a significant scale. There are intriguing possibilities here for tapping into a natural resource and thus beginning to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
The Pinehurst project would involve — for openers, at least — a relatively modest array of photovoltaic panels atop Barn 9 at the harness track. The Southern Pines venture is more ambitious. And because far more details have so far emerged on it, it is the one we will focus on here.
The proposal here involves a relatively complicated deal proposed by Sandhills Energy, a division of Bonville Construction Co. Inc., of Pinehurst. As we understand the concept presented by Bonville owner Ken Bonville at the Town Council’s May 23 work session, it would go something like this:
— A private investor/benefactor (or a group of them) would cover the $360,000 cost to install 312 solar panels on the roof of the public works annex. This is the large building on U.S. 1, near Lob Steer, which previously served as the temporary home of the Police Department — and even earlier housed the Access Printing operation.
— The investors would own the system for about nine years, long enough to turn a profit based on the annual revenue produced by the yearly generation of about 112,000 kilowatt hours of electrical power. The operators would be able to benefit from current tax laws and credits unavailable to municipal governments.
— At the end of that period, the investor/investors would turn the solar array over to the town government, so the subsequent revenue stream could then go into town coffers.
Getting Out in Front
During the nine-year period, the town would have to (1) take care of property and liability insurance, and (2) maintain broadband Internet access for the complex. Is the latter so that workers can surf the net? No. But the proposed solar collection system would be so “smart” that it could monitor itself and send out e-mails to warn of problems.
The option under arrangement in Pinehurst would presumably be similar. To our knowledge, no other local government in Moore County has embarked on any alternative energy project this sophisticated, though Terry Holt, a green-minded member of the Robbins Town Board, has invested in a solar power system for her private business, as reported some time ago in The Pilot.
Southern Pines, concerned that its tax revenues aren’t increasing from year to year as fast as they once did, is clearly interested in anything that holds out promise of new future income sources. But whatever the mix of motives might be, this kind of thing is a hot-button topic among municipal governments across the United States, and it is encouraging to see our two biggest towns taking a serious look at getting out in front of the pack on it.
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