This editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
It’s an impressive sight from ground level, rows of solar panels stretching off to the horizon. From the air, it’s astonishing, thousands of panels covering more than 100 acres of land that once nourished cotton or tobacco or soybeans.
Today, the cash crop is electricity, millions of watts created from the sun’s energy and poured into our electric grids.
There are more than 40 factory-sized solar farms operating or under construction in the Cape Fear region alone, including one in Cumberland County that’s said to be the biggest east of the Rocky Mountains.
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A state program that let solar developers deduct 35 percent of their start-up costs from their state tax bill helped North Carolina become one of the top states in solar energy production. Anti-solar zealots who want to leave us dependent on the energy sources of the past succeeded in killing the tax break last year, but the state still has aggressive targets for renewable-energy use. More solar farms are coming, including a 200-acre development in Hoke County that was approved this month.
Critics of solar want to stick with conventional plants, especially now that fracking has given this country a near glut of natural gas. They want, too, to encourage a return to nuclear power. But even a traditional energy giant like Duke Energy is aggressively developing solar, believing a diverse array of energy sources is the best approach to an uncertain future.
State Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, has led the efforts to undo solar incentives and he may return to the fight in the next session. “I’m a free market person,” he told an Observer reporter. “I think the market should take hold.” We think it already has, but if he wants to end solar subsidies, we encourage him to get rid of all the tax breaks the General Assembly has given to the power industry, not just those that helped solar.
But that’s not the wisest course. Solar equipment costs have dropped dramatically, and innovative battery technology will soon solve solar’s difficult relationship with sunsets and cloudy days. It’s a big part of our energy future, and it has brought new tax revenue and jobs to our most troubled rural economies.
Fayetteville’s state Rep. John Szoka is a solar fan and co-chair of the Energy Policy Committee. He believes we need to continue our commitment to solar and that attempts to repeal other renewable energy laws will fail. They should, and the solar tax credit should be brought back to help smaller developers and homeowners. We have seen the future of energy, right here in our own backyard, and its name is solar.
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