Benson is now on track for its first solar farm project.
Following a public hearing, Benson commissioners approved a rezoning for a 54-acre tract of land along the 2700 block of N.C. 50.
The town’s planning board had previously heard the request and recommended the approval — which switches the zoning from general business to heavy industry special use.
According to planning documents, Carrboro-based Banner Solar LLC will utilize the acreage for a solar farm to generate energy that will be sold back to Duke Energy — as is the case with nearly all solar farm grids in the area.
Most states, including North Carolina, have established a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — a goal relating to renewable energy used in retail electricity sales.
North Carolina’s renewable portfolio includes something the state has a lot of — sun, hogs and chickens.
Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives must meet an overall target of 10 percent energy from renewables by 2018, of that total at least 20 percent must be from solar, 20 percent from swine waste and 900,000 megawatt hours (MWh) from poultry waste.
Today, solar in North Carolina represents a $2.1 billion industry. In the last five years, solar energy has blossomed all around the state and acreage filled with twinkling panels has become rather commonplace — seen as a top option for depleted farmland to once again turn a profit.
Benson’s pending solar project seems to check the same boxes as similar farms in Dunn, Erwin and other locations across the state.
In a detailed site plan, Banner Solar cited the innocuous nature of a solar farm — it generates no traffic, expels no dangerous gasses or contaminants and can be maintained easily with a small regional staff, among other positive factors.
Additionally, Benson’s site will be surrounded by fencing and shrubbery in an effort to blend the panels into the surrounding environment. No construction dates were listed for the Banner Solar project.
Solar farms range in expense from $10 million for a smaller project to $20 million and beyond for larger operations, though companies utilize both state and federal tax credits in the construction and maintenance of solar farms.
Benson’s solar farm is the latest development in the area following a peak in the area for similar projects.
North Carolina’s past tax incentives, coupled with the recent emphasis on the state’s renewable portfolio can be credited for the recent solar boom — evidenced by several area locations in Harnett and Johnston counties in particular.
In October 2012, work began on Harnett County’s first solar farm, which can be seen running parallel to Interstate 95 just outside the city. More than 1,200 beams in precise rows over 12 acres were set up by Asheville-based FLS Energy. The company installed around 8,600 panels to catch the rays and produce around 2.5 megawatts (mW).
To put the capacity in perspective, consider this: the average electricity consumption of American households is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh or the energy expelled using 1,000 watts over one hour), with the average home consuming roughly 900 kWh per month, Dunn’s solar farm should produce enough juice to power 2,500 homes.
In August 2014, Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar completed its solar farm project in Erwin. The 5 mW farm, located along Erwin Access Road near Triton High School, features 17,000 angled panels (also called “arrays”) to catch the sunbeams and convert them into energy for a nearby Duke Energy substation. Courtesy The Daily Record