NC environmental chief backs restriction on solar farms, incentives for nuclear plants

Posted January 27, 2016
Updated February 2, 2016

Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote about local ability to judge solar projects to Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart. That quote was actually by Carl Wilkins, a member of the Energy Policy Council. WRAL has corrected the error and expanded upon Wilkins' comments, which he said were based on community concerns.

The solar industry has blossomed in North Carolina since lawmakers granted solar farms tax breaks nine years ago as part of renewable energy standards that require utilities to get a portion of their power from renewable sources.

North Carolina ranks fourth nationally in solar energy capacity, and the industry employs about 5,600 people in the state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL, operates a solar farm near Garner.

Now, critics of solar are trying to rein in the industry by rewriting state laws, and the head of the state Department of Environmental Quality is leading the charge, pushing the state Energy Policy Council to recommend some major changes.

One proposal discussed Wednesday would require a state permit for any new solar farm. That would give the state the final say on whether a property owner can lease his or her land for solar. It would also require a bond for eventual removal of the equipment.

"We are a huge solar state, and we have to put our big boy pants on and treat it as such," Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart told the Energy Policy Council.

Brian O'Hara, senior vice president of Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, said the state and other stakeholders have already drafted a model ordinance to help local officials negotiate. He said the solar industry wasn't consulted about the proposed state permit.

"We've learned lot as an industry over the last couple of years," O'Hara said. "We've grown dramatically, and there is a forum for looking at best practices around permitting, but I think that forum should include all the stakeholders."

O'Hara said the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, universities, county boards of commissioners and others should be part of the discussion about how future solar farms are developed.

Energy Policy Council members Herb Eckerlin and Carl Wilkins said a state permit could protect property owners from being taken advantage of by the solar industry.

Wilkins said they made the suggestion after hearing concerns that "these local jurisdictions lack the sophistication and the knowledge base in order to adequately judge the outcomes and the long-term impacts of these solar facilities."

"These people feel that they're not protected by the existing ordinances in place. It's a difficult situation for them because this is a new issue for them," said Eckerlin, a professor of mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University who established the Solar House demonstration facility on campus. "A lot of people say, 'I woke up, and there's a solar farm in my front yard.' There's a real concern on the part of the citizenry of eastern North Carolina."

A second proposal would redefine the state's renewable energy standard to include nuclear energy. The proposed "clean energy standard" would even allow incentives for new nuclear plants, which van der Vaart said are needed to back up less dependable sources such as solar.

"Simply recognizing that nuclear energy is clean and needs to be incentivized, that is what the renewable energy portfolio standard is for," he said. "This is meant to expand our portfolio."

Chatham County homeowner Sharon Garbutt, who lives 17 miles from the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwest Wake County, told the panel she doesn't agree.

"If it's clean energy, why do they need sirens to warn people in the event of an accident at that plant?" Garbutt said. "The idea of nuclear energy being clean is ludicrous."

The Energy Policy Council delayed voting on the two recommendations after members voiced concerns about how the policy changes would affect the energy industry. They plan to tweak the proposals and and discuss them again at their next meeting in March.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Greg Klayton Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    And when has that happened in the United States?

    There has never been even a single death from nuclear energy in the US in its 60+ year history.

    Google "wind mill related deaths" and you'll find that "green" energy isn't so safe after all.

  • Bobby Broadwell Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    nuclear energy is clean...until it kills you

  • Robbie Beck Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    k Need to meet clean energy standards and don't want to increase solar to do it? Simple. Just rename nuclear power as "clean energy". So what if it creates mountains of radioactive waste with half-lives in the tens of thousands of years?

    Remind me the next time there's a solar farm meltdown.

  • New Holland Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    It would also require a bond for eventual removal of the equipment.
    Read more at http://www.wral.com/nc-environmental-chief-backs-restriction-on-solar-farms-incentives-for-nuclear-plants/15284709/#F8KxVuJkjPGKhCkR.99
    IF they require that type of bond then they'd better require ever Strip Mall request to post a bond too so when all the tenets move out it can be torn down and replanted.

  • Paul Maxwell Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Well said. McCrory, his minions, and the dimwits in the GA have pushed North Carolina so far down a regressive path that I am afraid we will never fully recover.

  • Lewis Smeltzer Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    In other words, McCory got his marching orders from Duke power.

  • Bob Bruck Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar


  • Robbie Beck Jan 29, 2016
    user avatar

    "A lot of people say, 'I woke up, and there's a solar farm in my front yard.'

    Really? Name one please.

  • Stacie Hagwood Jan 28, 2016
    user avatar

    Elections cannot get here fast enough.

  • Timothy Watson Jan 28, 2016
    user avatar

    This is all about Duke Energy not wanting to pay the solar farmers the money they agreed to pay. Always follow the money. I remember when this guy took over DENR, many people quit their jobs because of his policies on the environment. He doesn't care about the environment, only the money !! But this guy works for who? Governor McCroy. Remember this when its time to vote