Myths and Facts
Myths and Facts about Solar Energy
North Carolina is home to a thriving solar industry that now ranks second in the nation for installed solar capacity. You have probably seen these large, utility-scale ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) systems, commonly referred to as solar farms, around the state. Solar farms are typically 35 acres or more and generate over 5 megawatts (MW) of electricity to the electrical grid, similar to the way a traditional power plant would operate. In comparison, a solar PV system installed on your home is usually around 5 kilowatts (kW) or 1,000 times less power generated than a utility-scale system. A typical land lease for a solar farm is 20 to 25 years, and because the panels are not attached to any water system or other equipment, at the end of the lease, the land can be restored to its original purpose.
Despite the many economic and environmental benefits of solar energy, there are still some misconceptions circulating around. Below are some commonly asked questions and responses that explain why solar energy is a great opportunity for North Carolina. Links to information sources are also included.
Click the Myths to learn the Facts
Clean energy jobs, like in solar, are just temporary.
From renewables to energy efficiency, clean energy offers a variety of employment opportunities for our state. North Carolina is home to 34,000 full-time equivalent clean energy jobs. What’s more, those who might struggle to find temporary work in rural areas now have more access to good paying jobs, such as those in solar farm construction.
Tax payers lose millions of dollars to solar farms, as they are subsidized in order for utility companies to sell electricity at generous low rates.
For every dollar of renewable energy tax credit claimed in NC, the state and local governments receive $1.64 in tax revenue. This means that the renewable energy income tax credit resulted in significantly more money invested in our communities than the value of the credit.
Once land is used for solar farming, it is highly unlikely it will ever be farmed again.
Good news – many farmers and land-owners are able to keep their properties farmable, even when there is clean energy like solar installed on it. By leasing a portion of land for solar, landowners gain a steady stream of income, and as a result, are able to keep the land in its original form during hard economic times. For example, Sun Raised Farms showcases agriculture and solar working harmoniously together. This collection of farmers raises sheep to maintain the grounds of solar farms. A win-win!
You could be stuck with the cost of decommissioning these solar farms
The solar developer is responsible for decommissioning the solar farm in almost every case. “Several North Carolina counties require a decommissioning plan to be submitted as part of the permitting process for new solar PV ground installation projects. Some counties also require such decommissioning plans to include the method to be used for ensuring that funding will be available for decommissioning. Some counties go even one step further by requiring solar PV developers applying for permits to provide some sort of performance guarantee in the form of a surety or decommissioning bond.”
There is no community benefit with clean energy like solar.
Clean energy can only stand to benefit and enhance your community. Beyond the economic impacts – local jobs and revenues – these projects instill a sense of independence and fortitude against an uncertain future that would otherwise be solely powered by aging, increasingly expensive traditional power plants. It doesn’t get more secure than a homegrown energy supply.
Solar panels drive down property values.
Just the opposite, actually. In communities across North Carolina, clean energy projects like solar are increasing property value which benefits landowners and expands the local tax base. For example, many farmers with solar installed on their land now have a sense of economic security because of the steady stream of income they receive from solar lease payments. Analysis from the survey data in the source below shows that there has been no impact on sale price for residential, agricultural, or vacant residential land that adjoins the existing solar farms included in the study.
Solar panels are made out of toxic materials.
Solar panel materials are enclosed and don’t mix with water or vaporize into the air, meaning there is no threat of chemicals being released into the environment during normal use. In addition, the panels are manufactured to endure all weather conditions and are sealed shut to further ensure public safety. Almost all solar PV panels are made of tempered glass, pass rigorous hail tests, and are regularly installed in Arctic and Antarctic conditions. The two most common types of solar panels – silicon-based and thin film – are both required to pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Leaching Characteristic Procedure (TCLP) test, meaning that these panels are nonhazardous.
Solar Energy is reaching its 'peak' in North Carolina, therefore there is no reason to invest in something that is projected to not grow.
There are actually several reasons why we should continue to invest in solar! Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress have already identified their future generating capacity needs within the next fifteen years. Filling future generational capacity with clean energy offers a low-cost option that can be especially beneficial to low-income counties, as nearly 75% of clean energy investment in North Carolina since 2007 has occurred in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties. Additionally, those worried that solar is hurting the reliability of the electrical system and hitting its peak at some substations shouldn’t be! Reliability and grid concerns can be solved through investments in smart grid infrastructure and energy storage, while simultaneously enabling expanded clean energy generation in North Carolina.
Fossil Fuel costs are low, therefore there is no need to invest in other clean technologies for electricity.
Clean energy investments are actually a hedge against variable fuel costs – which could rise again at a moment’s notice. Because clean energy sources like solar and energy efficiency technologies don’t rely on fuel, there is much more price certainty. Bonus: unlike traditional, fossil-fuel powered sources, the price of renewables continues to decrease – even as the technology improves. EIA-Natural Gas prices have fluctuated between 49 percent and 218 percent annually from 1994-2006. EIA 2-Natural Gas Prices continue to fluctuate as seen in graph in the third link.
Installed solar is land intensive.
This is a common misconception. Although North Carolina is second in the nation for installed solar capacity, solar farms here occupy just 0.2% of total North Carolina cropland.
Solar PV leaks radiation that can contaminate your drinking water and cause various deadly diseases
Solar panel materials are enclosed, and don’t mix with water or vaporize into the air – meaning there is no threat of chemicals releasing into the environment during normal use. In addition, the panels are manufactured to endure all weather conditions, and are sealed shut to further ensure public safety. Almost all solar PV panels are made of tempered glass, pass rigorous hail tests, and are regularly installed in Arctic and Antarctic conditions.
Are there any risks from electric and magnetic fields?
Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is a part of normal life from the appliances used in our homes, cell phones we use, and electrical lines in our neighborhoods. However, the strength of this electromagnetic field decreases very rapidly with distance so it is highly unlikely people would be exposed to all but extremely low levels of electromagnetic fields at the perimeter of a solar facility. EMF is measured in milligauss (mG). For reference, at typical vacuum cleaner emits 300 mG at 6 inches and decreases to 2 mG at 3 feet. At 50 feet from a typical inverter used at a solar facility (most equipment is well inside the fence of a solar facility), the electromagnetic field is 1 mG or less – probably lower than your exposure from appliances in your home. At the perimeter fencing of a project, it is likely that the EMF exposure is far lower than found inside a typical home.
Research has not shown a causal link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and potential cancer. In addition, an international commission has set an upward limit of 2000 mG, far higher than EMF level in or near solar facilities. New York has set a 200 mG level at right of ways near electric transmission lines. It is not likely that solar facilities will expose people to EMF that has a health risk.