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Pitt County approves new solar farm

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KINSTON, N.C. -
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners approves the construction of a new solar farm.

According to a conditional use permit, the property is located on the southern side of SR 1417 (Belvoir School Road) east of its intersection with NC 33 West in the Belvoir Township. Strata Solar. LLC., the owner of the property, has built farms all across the state; three are currently being constructed in Greene and Lenoir Counties.

Speaking at Monday's commission meeting, Rich Kirkland. Kirkland is a property appraiser. Some are concerned that a solar farm will affect their property values. Kirkland says in his research that isn't the case.

Pitt County Planning Director James Rhodes says the sight will have 3 inverters and is predominantly adjacent to agricultural properties. Rhodes also says the system would connect to a nearby Greenville Utilities substation.  

The board approved the solar farm unanimously. 

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The landscape in Eastern North Carolina is changing. In two years, solar panels will generate more power and more money than farming itself.
 
“Typically farm land goes from $80-120 an acre. If you lease to a solar farm for a 20 year or greater lease, you can typically see 4 to 5 times the income.” Eric Rouse pioneered the first solar farm in Lenoir County and within a year, he's seen results.

“There is no downside. It is clean…it doesn't affect the community,” Rouse said. 

The idea is catching on. Strata Solar is building three additional farms this year, two in Lenoir and one in Greene County.

Workers are currently working on the company’s Highway 58 solar farm. Strata Solar says the site's 9,000 panels could generate up to 2.7 megawatts a day--- that's enough to power more than 1,300 homes.

David Rogers a field director for Environment North Carolina encourages solar energy. “Solar is a great opportunity for North Carolina to develop clean energy to improve our environment and it never runs out.”

In 2013, NC ranked second nationally for solar power installations, trailing only California. But Rogers says there's an effort to reverse the state's progress. “There was an effort led by Rep. Mike Hager to roll back the state's renewable energy standards which requires states to get a certain percentage of its energy from clean sources,” Rogers said. 

Commissioner Denny Garner hopes that isn't the case. He says solar can help his county, one that has a hard time generating investments. “When you are talking about these solar deals, you know $20 million in the tax books, that's a huge investment for a county like Greene County.”

Solar power equates to less than half of a percent of all energy produced in North Carolina, but Environment North Carolina’s goal is to get it to 2% by 2020.
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