Horry County Council members asked some thoughtful questions when they were presented with a proposed $166 million solar farm last week.
They should ask a few more.
Council members seem focused on two issues: how much money the project could generate for the county and what the environmental impact of disposing the solar panels would be when they are no longer useful.
Both of those valid concerns, but there are more issues to consider.
Santee Cooper has placed an emphasis on solar power as the utility seeks to shrink its carbon footprint and shutter some of its coal-fired power plants. The former Grainger Generating Station, which towered over Conway for 50 years, is now a field. The Winyah Generating Station in Georgetown County is closing as well.
If the environment is a concern, then thought must be given to the impact of climate change, especially in an area impacted by flooding and sea level rise.
Solar technology isn’t perfect, of course. Panels must be fabricated and they contain rare metals that can cause ecological problems when they are eventually discarded. But the technology continues to evolve, and there’s a strong focus on recycling panels and getting the most use from them.
There are other factors to consider as well. If forests would have to be cleared to accommodate the solar farm, that could be counterproductive as healthy forests can hold more carbon than they release. And there’s also a financial element.
Located in western Horry, the property for the proposed solar farm generates under $30,000 per year for the county. The solar company pushing the project has proposed a payment of more than $550,000 per year for 30 years to the county. That could help pay for more police officers or firefighters. It could be used to build long promised recreation centers. At a time when COVID-19 has forced the county leaders to slash millions from their budget, it could help stave off some cuts or sustain services.
The bottom line is county officials should take a deep, thoughtful look at this project. There’s already one solar farm here. It’s off U.S. 701 near Bucksport. And if the technology will likely become more prevalent in Horry County anyway, this is a relevant discussion. The county stands to receive little money from a Santee Cooper project, so this might be a way to at least generate some revenue for the county.
That being said, we still don’t have enough information about this proposal, including the name of the company behind it.
Perhaps this particular solar endeavor is an environmental hazard that county officials would be wise to avoid. But it would be foolish for county leaders to dismiss the proposal without considering all the relevant factors.
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