01/10/13 — Solar farm firm has eyes on town

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Solar farm firm has eyes on town

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on January 10, 2013 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A solar energy development company is planning to start construction on a 32-acre 6.4 megawatt solar farm on the northwest side of Mount Olive sometime in late January or early February depending on when the town issues a construction permit.

Brian C. Bednar, president of Birdseye Renewable Energy, a small solar farm developer based out of Charlotte, says the project's construction would last 60 to 90 days and use 75 to 100 construction workers. The final cost of the project would be between $14 million and $15 million and would last for 20 to 30 years.

"It's a good-sized project," Bednar said. "It's a typical footprint we've been using throughout east North Carolina."

The array, which features solar photovoltaic technologies, would be built near the intersection of Bert Martin Road and Hatch's Hill Lane, a property less than a mile from Mount Olive's northwest side and owned by the First Baptist Church.

The proximity of the solar farm to Mount Olive would put the proposed project within the one-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of the town. That means the town of Mount Olive would be able to obtain a one-time fee of $42,000 to $45,000 for the construction permit. All other taxes would go to Wayne County.

In the summer of 2012, the town included rules for solar farms in residential/agricultural (RA) zoning such as setbacks, height limitations and a six-foot-tall fence topped with barbed wire around the arrays. The property in question is zoned in RA, and since that ordinance has been passed, the property won't be required to be rezoned. The law also requires that if the solar array is abandoned, the parcel owner is responsible for removing broken or unused systems within 12 months of the end of operations.

The solar farm still needs a construction permit by the town before BRE can give the go ahead for construction.

During the Mount Olive Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 7, the town discussed waiving permit fees as a type of bargaining chip to get the solar farm to annex its property into Mount Olive, which would mean more tax money for the town. To do so, the town would need to not give out the permit for the solar farm before their next meeting.

"We'll probably just go with the permit fee," said Town Inspector Danny Keel.

BRE was started in 2009 by Brian C. Bednar. Based in Charlotte, the company has already developed 55 megawatts worth of solar farms across North Carolina. The company is partnered with Strata Solar, based in Chapel Hill, and MP2 Capital, based in California.

The solar farm will feature seven to eight feet-high fixed panels on arrays facing south. The setup will produce no glare or noise, Bednar said. It will also require little upkeep so no fulltime employees will be hired to maintain the arrays.

"It's a blessing and a curse," Bednar said.

BRE will be selling the electricity produced on the solar farm to Progress Energy.

No other future projects developed by BRE is being planned for the Mount Olive area, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a possibility as local officials have been helpful, Bednar said.

"(Mount Olive officials) have been very professional and very easy to work with," Bednar said.

North Carolina is the No. 10 state for the number of megawatts produced by solar farms, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

"North Carolina has been very supportive to date, and as a result, it has been an attractive investment in the state," Bednar said. "We continue to look for opportunities."

To learn more about BRE, visit www.birdseyeenergy.com.