Solar energy companies defend solar farms citing economic benefit

GRIFTON, N.C. (WNCT) – Solar companies are speaking out about concerns some have about solar farms in the East.

Last week, WNCT ran a story about a moratorium passed by Beaufort County Commissioners that prevented further solar farm development in the county for a year. One of the reason commissioners passed that was due to a state law that required counties to give an 80 percent tax abatement on real property on solar farms.

“It’s being built on the back of the tax payer,” said Beaufort County Commissioner Ron Buzzeo.

However, advocates for solar farms argue there is a big difference between a tax abatement on real property, and a tax abatement on the actual land.

“Personal property, that is the equipment on the solar farm. The underlying land is taxed at the normal rate,” said Richard Harkrader, CEO of Carolina Solar Energy.

Back in 2007, Harkrader help then Rep. Paul Luebke write the abatement bill that would help solar companies in North Carolina.

Harkrader said officials in Beaufort County are wrong to think solar farms cost the county anything.

Often times, solar farms are placed on open fields that had been used as agricultural. To put a solar farm on the land, companies must get a special commercial use permit, which yields greater tax revenue for counties. Agricultural lands yield less tax revenue due to a tax abatement given for agricultural use.

Harkrader ran the numbers for two properties in Grifton to prove his point. A 62 acre agricultural property yielded $616 in taxes paid in 2017. A nearby 45 acre property with a solar farm built on it yielded $2,790 in taxes paid in 2017.

For those leasing or selling their land to solar companies, there’s also a personal economic benefit. Drew Harper III of Grifton recently sold 175 acres to a solar company.

“It just helps you live better,” he said.

Harper said the solar company paid a much higher rate per acre than they were able to receive from farming. He’s in favor of future solar farm development in North Carolina.

“It should help the town of Grifton, should employ people, and like I say, the financial benefits,” he said.

Sen. Bill Cook (R- Dist. 1) told WNCT he plans to introduce a bill in the General Assembly that would reduce the tax abatement solar companies receive from 80 percent to zero percent over a several year period.

Harkrader argues that if that happens, many solar companies would go out of business.

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