Who’s complaining

Published 1:34 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The last time Duke Energy Renewables executives came to Beaufort County, it was with lawyers. The company and contractors SunEnergy1 had to defend the White Post solar-farm project before the North Carolina Utilities Commission after Bath resident Paul Woolard filed a formal complaint with the commission. The commission has not ruled on the issue, but in light of what is going on, a closer look at Duke Energy Renewables might be helpful.

Duke Energy Renewables is a commercial business unit of Duke Energy that has completed a 12.5-megawatt commercial-scale solar power project in Beaufort County. The White Post solar project started service last December and supplies enough electricity to power about 2,500 homes.

SunEnergy1 hired about 125 Beaufort County residents to build the solar farm. Like any construction project, that employment was temporary, but it could lead to additional construction projects like the proposed White Post expansion and Warren Field Airport solar farm. Washington would benefit from taxes and lease payments from the proposed airport farm.

During construction, more than 27,000 meals were served on site and more than 6,750 meals were bought from local restaurants. The White Post project used the services of more than 75 local businesses.

Other energy companies may end up following Duke’s lead and look at eastern North Carolina for future solar projects.

In addition to future prospects and employment boosts, Beaufort County benefits from the property taxes collected from the company.

The energy system receives an 80-percent property tax abatement, but even with the abatement, the White Post facility pays more than $200,000 annually in property taxes.

According to the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce, the county’s economic multiplier is seven, which means for every out-of-county dollar spent in the area cycles seven times within the county. The project will inject an estimated $2,880,000 into Beaufort County and the surrounding area, resulting in a $20,160,000 impact.

After last month’s hearing, Duke Energy Renewables Project Developer Brian Kennedy was concerned that all of Duke’s goodwill might be overshadowed by one filed complaint.

“This has been a little rough,” he told colleagues. “I was nothing but polite and respectful to Paul and his wife, and for him to say otherwise is frustrating, I have done nothing wrong here and all the positives of this project are in jeopardy of being drowned out by this. I know it will blow over, but it’s a shame.”

Kennedy has nothing to worry about. Despite the public hearing, there are still 125 Beaufort County residents who will be thanking Duke Energy Renewables for injecting a source of income into a struggling economy.