Arizona firm has option on Durham County site for solar facility

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 04:37 PM

An Arizona company applied for the chance to develop a 5-megawatt solar energy production facility on 22 acres in Durham County.

The proposed facility is just one of 20 projects that Sunlight Partners, based in Mesa, Ariz., has explored in North Carolina, according to information filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission.

But not all the projects under consideration by the company are likely to be developed, said Keith Colson, Sunlight Partners’ director of development for the eastern United States. 

The company plans to start with a larger number of potential projects, he said, assuming some may fall away due to permitting or other issues.

None of those projects have been built so far, and none are under construction.

“So we have quite a few sites with the intent to not build all those sites, but just what ends up (not) falling out the end of the back,” Colson said.

In choosing sites, the company tried to identify land in Duke Energy territory without environmental issues, he said.

Plans were filed in spring with Durham City-County Planning for a site off Old Oxford Highway.

Alysia Bailey Taylor, planning supervisor with Durham City-County Planning, said staff completed a first review of the site plan in May. She said the applicant has until mid-August to submit reviewed plans. She said Wednesday that those had not yet been submitted.

Rand Neyland, the Bahama resident who owns the Durham County property under consideration, said the land is an unimproved tract that he has as an investment property. He said it also acts as a buffer for the property where he lives.

Sunlight Partners officials took out an option to lease the land for 15 years. He said the company has about 18 months to decide if they want to do anything with the site. It’s not clear if they’ll move forward, he said.

 “I’ll be compensated for it; I think it’s a good use,” Neyland said, if the company chooses to move forward. “I’ve always been interested in, at some point, in getting some kind of financial return for the land. I think this would be a good way of doing that, providing some renewable energy, and I think with a minimum impact, cosmetically, on the neighborhood.”

Colson said the only reason “anyone would look at North Carolina” for solar development is because it has utility companies they can work with, people that they can work with for leasing land and because of the state’s tax credit.

Besides a federal tax credit, the state offers a tax credit for 35 percent of the cost of a project, up to $2.5 million per installation. That credit is set to expire in 2015.

The state also has set a target requiring electric utilities in the state to use a combination of renewable resources and energy efficiency measures to meet 12.5 percent of electricity demand by 2021, according to Duke Energy’s website.