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OUR VIEWS

Tax credits for solar energy a good investment

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Albemarle region has seen its share of solar and wind power projects over the last five years.

Solar energy projects feature clean, energy-producing technology and provide the public an opportunity to harness sustainable, unlimited power. But this technology still requires vision, patience and some investment from the public. In North Carolina, the investment comes in the form of 80 percent tax credits allowed by state law on the facilities and land where solar farms are producing energy for the general power grid.

In recent months, however, some area counties — including Currituck and Pasquotank just last week — have sought to opt out of this agreement providing tax credits for solar energy development. Driven in some cases by blind desperation for local tax revenue, and in others by powerful fossil fuel interests, these actions ignore the greater public benefit.

Pasquotank County commissioners voted 6-1 last Monday for a resolution that would ask state lawmakers to renege on their commitment to provide tax credits for solar farms in the county. Only Commissioner Joe Winslow voted against the resolution.

We wish others had taken Winslow's principled position of sticking to the terms of an agreement with solar companies and landowners that invest in the development of renewable energy. So far in Pasquotank, that investment amounts to more than $68 million. Measure that against Pasquotank’s cost in annual tax credits — about $400,000.

As far as we can tell, there aren't many industries lining up to make that kind of investment here — investments that also bring jobs and commerce to local businesses. It also seems somewhat hypocritical that commissioners would oppose these tax credits but were willing to grant tax breaks — as we believe they should have — to the developers of the Tanglewood Pavilions commercial center.

Additionally, supporters of the resolution also are overlooking what seemed obvious when the county approved the Iberdrola (now Amazon) wind farm project: Residents favor the renewable energy effort.

Of the causes that took root during the 1960s, environmental protection, wise stewardship of resources, consumer protection and energy efficiency are among the most visible and successful. It has taken decades for some of these causes to come to fruition, usually because it has taken time to develop the technologies and business models needed to implement them. But fruition also has required strategies to navigate the tricky political waters that can buffet these worthy public objectives.

Looking around today, evidence of the benefits projected years ago is visible in the improved quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink; in the cleaner emissions from the safer cars we drive; in the nutritional content of food we eat; and, more recently, in the renewable sources of electrical current that power our businesses and homes.

In the latter effort, technology has been available but undeveloped — mainly because powerful fossil fuel-driven energy industries and utilities, which hold significant political clout in Washington, have managed to stymie an emphasis on energy alternatives. Fortunately the situation is changing as this country and others have grown more aware of the damage that fossil fuel sources inflict on our health, our environment and, frankly, on the planet's welfare.

In recent years solar power has emerged as a growing industry with the potential to transform — along with wind and other passive technologies — the planet's energy infrastructure into a future of cheaper, sustainable and, more importantly, cleaner power. The ongoing development of solar technology and the construction of solar farms is part of that process. But some help from the public is still required.

Private solar operations have grown 17-fold since 2008, from 1.2 gigawatts to about 40 gigawatts today — enough to power 5.7 million average American homes. Also, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average cost of solar panels since 2010 has dropped more than 60 percent and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50 percent. Solar generation, the fastest-growing energy sector in the world, is still catching up. In the 12 months through July 2017, total solar generation produced only 1.74 percent of total U.S. electricity, according to government sources.

Solar energy has a way to go before it is self-staining, but the prospects are good and getting better. Forward-thinking consumers and leaders who recognize the benefits of sustainable power should be able to live with tax credits as an investment toward achieving that objective.

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