Speak now or forever hold your peace

Published 7:36 pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

Beaufort County will be making history this week when, for the first time in North Carolina, a solar project will be challenged with a public hearing before the N.C. Utilities Commission.

The state does not require a public hearing for the projects unless a local resident files a formal objection. A White Post Road resident has done just that.

Duke Energy Renewables, a commercial business unit of Duke Energy, started developing a 12.5-megawatt (MW) commercial-scale solar power project (the largest of its kind in the state) on White Post Road last fall.

Plans are still in the works to build a second solar farm on land by the airport that Duke will lease from the city. The site will produce 20 MW of solar power.

There was also talk of possibly expanding the White Post site to 25 MW. But first, Duke will have to survive Tuesday’s hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

Surry County is fighting its own battle with another Charlotte-based solar energy company. A resident filed a complaint and that project will be subject to a public hearing scheduled later this month.

Since that complaint was filed, a second energy company pulled out of plans to build a 3.5-acre farm in Surry, essentially citing the hearing as its reason for moving on.

The fate of Beaufort County’s projects could come down to Tuesday’s hearing. But that is what the regulatory process is for. The county will be better off airing grievances at this stage than letting the chips fall as they may.