Harnessing the sun

By Abbi Overfelt

September 16, 2013

We agree that a solar farm, with its bare-metal bones, low-lying facade and smooth surface bound to reflect the glare of its very life-force, is not attractive.

Neither are fallen-down textile mills, boarded-up homes, streets littered with bored, unemployed youth and businesses that lack a steady stream of customers.

Is the latter a solution for the former? Hardly. But it’s a step in a lucrative direction.

Strata Solar, which has placed several farms in neighboring Robeson County, claims that each solar farm adds millions of dollars to the tax base of the municipality where panels are placed — and that the initial installation involves a little more than 100 workers and generates thousands in wages, lodging and supplies.

Once that initial money is spent, the farms only employ a few people — and the occasional herd of sheep which trims greenery that grows up around the metal structures. But if such a farm were to be placed in Laurinburg, the city would continue to reap more tax money for its coffers, which like those in other small rural areas, tend to be a bit hollow.

The farms have been welcomed in some communities, nearby Fairmont and Red Springs are examples. For Red Springs Mayor John McNeill, solar panels — and tax revenue — can’t roll into town fast enough. A push to build a solar farm was fought in Rowland, where residents not only said they were unsightly but worried about damage that the town may be liable for were a tornado to come tearing through and scatter pieces of metal everywhere.

We know that tax money generated by these farms can be used to offer incentives to other companies that consider locating to or expanding operations in Scotland County. The county’s economic developer, Greg Icard, was quoted in a story published in this newspaper on Sept. 4 as saying that offering incentives in a chilly economic climate is simply “part of the way the game is played.”

If the city of Laurinburg could afford to offer up to companies even a fraction of the $171,000 in tax breaks that Scotland County did for Meritor Inc., perhaps more companies would consider locating here.

While we would be hard-pressed to find residents clamouring for the chance to have hundreds of solar panels for a next-door neighbor, it would also be difficult to find anyone who would say that any chance to bring new industry — and more jobs — to a county with the highest percentage of unemployed in the state should be avoided.

However, residents who were in opposition to Strata Solar’s proposal for a new farm in the city limits, fearing a negative effect on property values, were the only ones who voiced opinions at a City Council meeting that ended with the denial of a needed permit. There were a few voices in favor, but they were on the company payroll.

We will see on Sept. 30, when Strata Solar’s appeal to the city’s decision is heard in Superior Court, which voice rings loudest.

For the sake of economic development, we hope it’s the latter.