Currituck should support clean energy, and here's why


By Suzanne Mullins
Guest Columnist

Sunday, January 27, 2019

I spent the majority of my youth in Currituck County. I frolicked, barefoot, through grassy pastures, built a rustic treehouse in the county’s woodlands, pulled fish from the depths of the Currituck Sound, and observed wildlife make their way through the cornfields and along muddy streambanks. In my adult life, I continue to enjoy the natural and cultural integrity of the area, the crisp air, familiar faces and rich heritage each time I return home.

But with my love for the area also comes a great deal of worry. The recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the Trump Administration’s National Climate Assessment both give us the facts: human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change, and the effects of these shifts are already beginning to manifest as significant dangers to humanity’s health and wellbeing. Though all are at risk from the unchecked rise of global temperatures, Currituck and surrounding counties are particularly in harm’s way. In the coming decades, rising sea levels and worsening storms threaten to chronically or even permanently inundate the area with water, and both my generation and those that follow will be left to cope with a fraught, murky mess.

There is hope, however. Preventative and mitigative measures, such as transitions to renewable energies and away from fossil fuels, are essential tools in slowing the effects of climate change, and North Carolina is already forging a path to the future as a national leader in solar. Solar energy is not only beneficial to the environment, but also to the economy and health of our citizens. The solar industry is growing 17 times faster than the overall U.S. economy, bringing new jobs and wealth to our communities. In 2016, solar accounted for $1.4 billion in North Carolina revenue and helped employ more than 7,600 North Carolinians. With prices for installation, energy production, and usage on a steady decline, solar is a practical choice for energy generation and economic growth.

But while the state of North Carolina as a whole helps pave the way for a sustainable, more positive future, Currituck — given its current ban and continued tabling of the discussion on solar — continues to fall behind. Of course, I understand why some may be concerned — nobody wants to risk degrading the area’s natural beauty, harming our wildlife, or damaging property and land-use values.

Most of these worries, however, are unwarranted. Evidence suggests that long-term effects on farmland are minor, given proper contractual decommissioning and company cleanup. And while other energy sources may produce toxic substances, solar energy does not emit emissions which threaten human or environmental health. Furthermore, solar facilities can be designed in a manner which helps improve natural features and conditions for wildlife, all while maintaining our community’s aesthetic value and preserving the longevity of land potential.

The benefits of solar greatly outweigh the risks of falling behind in the fight against worsening climate threats. It is inevitable that Currituck will see changes to its landscape in the coming years, but I believe in the resiliency of the county and its communities. There is much to lose from doing nothing, and everything to gain from committing to a safer, healthier, and more sustainable future.

Suzanne Mullins is a Currituck County native, candidate for a master’s degree in environmental management at Duke University, and a climate and energy communications intern at The Nature Conservancy NC.