Buncombe County, NC, Votes to Supplant Scrap Heap with Solar Farm, Deploy LED Lights in Schools

by | Mar 10, 2017

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In North Carolina, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners  has “seen the light” on sustainability – voting unanimously on March 7 to swap out 47,000 light fixtures in its school district with LED bulbs, to construct a 5-MW solar farm on 25 acres of local brownfield land, and to create a full-time staff position In to oversee local environmental efforts, according to a report by the nonprofit news service Carolina Public Press.

Getting the LEDS In

The LED lighting initiative, alone, will save the county nearly $1 million dollars – $855,000 in annual energy bills and $55,000 in annual maintenance costs, based on an estimate by the Buncombe County Schools.

Indeed, in a presentation delivered by the school district’s Energy Director, Alesha Reardon, the existing fluorescent lights use about 30 percent more energy than the LED bulbs will require.

It will cost about $700,000 to replace the lighting in Buncombe’s 38 school buildings – but, the local news outlet reported, the costs should amount to a “wash” due to the availability of financing. The Carolina Public Press noted that this is the first phase of a $5.6 million total project cost to be completed over two years; and funding will come from the state lottery, combined with a $2.3 million offset from a rebate by the Tar Heel State’s major utility, Duke Energy.

Duke also announced last July that it would establish STEM labs in several Buncombe schools. “STEM education is unique because of its fundamental premise of integrating student collaboration and communication into thoughtful, engaging learning environments,” said BCS Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin last summer. “We are incredibly grateful for Duke Energy’s support, which helps Buncombe County Schools [to] expand our ability to provide the latest STEM education to more students earlier. This paves the way for students to more fully develop the necessary creative thinking and problem-solving skills essential for any career path they may choose.”

According to Alesha Reardon, Buncombe County Schools Energy Director, the existing fluorescent lighting uses about 30 percent more energy than the LEDs will. The project is expected to save $855,500 in energy costs annually.

From Brownfield to Solar Farm

Commission Chair Brownie Newman – whose day job, the news service said, is to research solar farm properties –proposed using the retired Buncombe County landfill in Woodfin for a 25-acre ground-mounted solar farm.

The 5-MW solar farm would create 18 percent of all of the energy necessary to support Buncombe County government, he noted, pointing out that it could create $50,000 more in recurring annual income for local taxpayers.

Specifically, the solar farm would bring in $30,000 annually in rent from whatever company purchases it, and would save from $10,000 to $12,000 in mowing costs for that piece of land. In addition, the farm would generate $20,000 in property taxes to Buncombe County and Woodfin.

Newman said that the County only would be on the hook for $26,000 for initial feasibility research to see if the land could support a solar farm. That review would be conducted by Duke Energy. The Board also allocated the budget for the study on March 7.

Duke Energy, which has power lines near the site, would be required to buy energy from the site. The project would be developed in about 12 to 18 months, and expected to last for 30 to 40 years.

New Office of Sustainability

The Board also supported creating a position for a full-time staffer to focus on sustainability, the Carolina Public Press reported. Members said establishment of the position reflects the

,” increased priority of the county to address clean energy efforts.

The annual salary for the position will be $75,000.

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