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Carrboro wants to increase solar energy with panels


Solar energy could soon be the latest feature at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

The Board of Aldermen passed a resolution Tuesday to look into building a photovoltaic array, or PV, near the market at Carrboro’s Town Commons.

The system would ideally be funded by private investors, and though it would not produce much electricity, officials say it would demonstrate the town’s commitment to green energy.

Randy Dodd, environmental planning director for the town of Carrboro, said the town began looking into the project last summer after Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz, a fellow with the alternative-energy focused DELTA program, proposed and began researching the project.

After Fixmer-Oraiz left the program, Chris Lazinski, another fellow, stepped in to work out details.

Lazinski said the capacity of the proposed system is five kilowatt-hours, a relatively small amount of electricity.

Dodd said he guesses the town could save a little more than $1,000 per year with the panel.

The town spends about $15,000 to $18,000 a month in electricity on town facilities, Lazinski said.

Dodd said the research the students conducted gave Carrboro the capacity to look into the project.

“It’s something we’ve been interested in, but having the time to look into it has been one of the constraints,” Dodd said.

Research in hand, the town approached the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy to do a feasibility study and to help work with potential investors, he said.

Investment structure

The institute will do a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that those who fund the panel’s construction qualify for tax breaks that nearly equal their investment, said Rio Tazewell, a Carrboro native and the group’s outreach and education director.

Investors will collectively own the rights to the system for a set period of time, ideally five to six years. During that period, they can sell the energy the system generates to Duke Energy in order to recoup on their investment and make a small profit, Dodd said.

After that, they can either donate or sell the system back to the town at a low price. The town will not have to fund the start-up costs of the venture, but it will benefit from the panel, Tazewell said.

“The big push in doing a tax equity project is that these systems can ultimately be owned by non-profits and those non-profits don’t actually have to pay any money themselves,” Tazewell said.

Dodd said the town hopes to finish building the system in one tax cycle, so investors are able to receive the tax credit on their 2012 filing.

Alderman Sammy Slade said the system could be a good starting point for the town’s future investment in green energy.

“This could be an example and opportunity for us to look into thinking about green capital investment,” Slade said.

Dodd said the town could build future systems based off of the design to more significantly offset utility costs.

Solar energy in Chapel Hill

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While Carrboro plans for a solar-powered future, UNC has already paved the way for green energy on a larger scale.

Cindy Shea, director of the sustainability office at UNC, said PV solar panels like the one Carrboro is looking into are used at the University’s Visitor’s Center, at the Botanical Garden and at the Bell Tower parking deck. Morrison Residence Hall uses solar thermal energy panels.

The projects were completed in 2009, 2010 and 2007 respectively, Shea said.

“They seemed like good applications, given the building orientation and the quality of energy in writing that we were looking for,” Shea said.

Funding from student groups helped build the Bell Tower PV panels and part of the Morrison thermal energy panels.

Shea said the University plans to put a solar hot water system on the roof of Fetzer Gym as well, but the project has been delayed until the roof can be replaced.

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