Three NC counties call for end to solar tax incentives after rapid spread of sun-soaking energy panels

Original article.
CURRITUCK, N.C.

At least three eastern North Carolina counties want to end local property tax breaks for solar farms which could stunt the industry’s rapid expansion in the region.

Currituck County passed a resolution last month and was joined last week by Pasquotank and Chowan counties calling on state lawmakers to end the 80 percent tax discount on solar projects.

Rows of sun-soaking silicon panels sit on 2,200 Curriituck County acres valued at $210 million, according to the county’s resolution. The solar discount means Currituck receives $210,600 in property taxes instead of more than $1 million.

Pasquotank County is losing more than $420,000 in annual revenue from 508 acres of solar farms, its resolution said. Chowan County does not have completed solar farms, but two are approved for construction, Commissioner John Mitchener said.

Three solar farms occupy about 120 acres in Perquimans County, but officials have not passed a resolution on tax breaks. Three more solar farms are approved for construction, County Manager Frank Heath said. Commissioners have approached state officials about scaling back the tax breaks, he said.

“It’s been a topic of discussion,” Heath said.

The state ended a 35 percent tax reduction for renewable energy projects in January 2016.

State Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, plans to submit a bill in next year’s session that would remove the local incentives if signed into law, said Jordan Hennessey, Cook’s spokesman. Tax breaks on existing solar farms would gradually phase out over four years.

“Solar facilities are using some of the best and most productive farm land in the state … ,” Cook said in a statement.

The reductions are not needed anymore since solar construction costs have fallen by about half in recent years, said Bobby Hanig, chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners. Solar industry statistics show 55 percent building cost reductions in the last decade.

Solar energy systems take up good farm land and can be unsightly, he said. The county needs the money for schools and utilities, he said.

“All we’re doing is losing tax revenue,” he said.

The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners is not aware of other counties asking for solar tax breaks to end, spokeswoman Lacy Pate said.

Solar industry officials defend the discount.

Counties receive more revenue on the same property than they were before the addition of a multimillion-dollar solar project, according to a statement from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“Repealing the property tax abatement risks damaging this still growing industry that brings much needed economic development to the state,” the statement said.

The roughly 1,000 acres of silicon panels south of Moyock are quiet and crime-free, create jobs and do not burden schools, said Kenny Habul, CEO of SunEnergy1.

The industry would sink if investment tax credits from the federal government were eventually eliminated along with phasing out state and now possibly local incentives, Habul said.

“We’re finished,” he said.