Saluda solar 04 (copy)

A solar array in Saluda County.

A North Carolina-based solar farm developer plans to invest $30 million at properties across Greenwood County in the next five years, in return for a fee-in-lieu-of-tax assessment under a deal approved Tuesday night.

Codenamed “Project Augusta,” the venture marks an ongoing interest by Pine Gate Renewables LLC and other firms in building out Greenwood’s solar energy portfolio.

County Attorney Elizabeth Taylor said the incentive deal with Pine Gate is structured differently from more traditional FILOT contracts, with a master agreement in place with the Asheville company and subsidiary pacts governing 12 smaller entities.

Combined, the properties must meet standards laid out in the master agreement.

In April, Pine Gate development project director Erich Miarka and Elizabeth Trajos, an attorney with Nelson Mullins specializing in energy law, said the tracts of land in Greenwood were desirable for solar expansion.

“We see the benefit as being a long-term, low-intensity user of a piece of property that provides certainty going forward,” Trajos told the City/County Planning Commission. “It creates no noise, no traffic. If the utility regulatory environment were such that we could sneak an extension cord out to our neighbors, we would do it but that’s not the way utility regulation works.”

The projects would tie into Duke Energy’s grid, with the company selling power to users.

Pine Gate, a national developer of solar farms, oversees more than 400 megawatts worth of projects, enough to power 300,000 homes annually.

Over the past three years, county officials have taken several steps to prepare the area for growth in the industry as projects have been proposed or remain in the pipeline.

In January 2017, the county’s solar guidelines were changed to allow homeowners with southern-facing structures to obtain a special use exception allowing for the installation of panels on the front roof.

New ambulance purchasesAlso Tuesday, the County Council approved a $91,939 from its special appropriations fund into an EMS line item to help pay for the purchase of two new ambulances and cardiac monitors.

“Currently, we’re down two vehicles due to accidents that took place a couple of years ago that were never replaced,” interim EMS Coordinator Derek Oliver said.

Combined, the ambulances and monitors will cost $433,913 to replace, with residual funds from the 2019 budget and 2020 revenues being used to cover the balance.

“If approved we are aiming to get back on track rotating the fleet to ensure we have safe, reliable vehicles on the road,” Oliver wrote in an Aug. 21 memo to County Manager Toby Chappell.

He also made the case for securing two new cardiac units.

“The current model we use has been discontinued, and we are finding it difficult to have our current units repaired,” Oliver said. “Currently, we have two that are questionable for a repair attempt due to the cost of parts.”

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.