Commissioners to consider solar farm lease with Duke

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With the county’s commitment to using renewable energy for all its operations by 2030 still an open question, Buncombe County could take a step toward fulfilling that goal this week.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote Tuesday, Aug. 21, on a lease to Duke Energy Progress for a new solar farm at the county’s 30-acre retired landfill site in Woodfin.

County officials expect the solar farm would offset the county’s 100 percent renewable energy goal by 10-15 percent.

The lease calls for a two-year due diligence period, during which Duke would investigate the site and perform permitting and design tasks, followed by an initial term of 25 years with the option for the county to renew the lease for three additional five-year terms. The 25-year term would start when the facility becomes operational.

Duke would pay the county $100 for each usable acre of land for each year of construction. Following the construction period, Duke would pay the county $700 per usable acre of land annually, with the option of having the rent payments offset by the delivery of renewable energy certificates to the county. One renewable energy certificate, or REC, equals one megawatt hour.

In a 4-3 vote in December, Buncombe County commissioners voted to run all county operations using renewable energy by 2030 and to run all operations in the community using renewable energy by 2042.

For more information on this initiative, see:

Amending the personnel ordinance

Commissioners will also consider four changes to the county’s personnel ordinance.

1. Change the reporting structure for the county finance director from both the county manager and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to the county manager only. The change, interim County Manager George Wood told commissioners in a memo, would bring the finance director’s position in line with the hiring and disciplinary practices that apply to other county employees.

Wood said the board would still have the authority to be involved in hiring decisions and to direct the county manager on any disciplinary actions regarding the finance director.

“County managers don’t typically terminate a key employee like this without first notifying and discussing the reasons with the [Board of Commissioners] anyway,” Wood wrote. “For me, that is standard practice.”

The county’s most recent finance director, Tim Flora, announced his resignation in late May.

2. Eliminate cost of living salary adjustments. Under current policy, the county automatically adjusts county employee pay annually in accordance with the Consumer Price Index, which is determined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the bureau’s website, “The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.”

Wood said in the memo that he sees several problems with this approach, noting that it takes away the board’s ability to take other factors into account — such as the county’s financial condition — before making the decision.

According to Wood, the county lacks a system for annual employee performance evaluations or a system of pay tied to these evaluations, which means the cost of living adjustment is the only means of adjusting pay. Wood recommended in the memo that commissioners move to a merit-based system for pay adjustments and scrap the cost-of-living adjustment policy.

“If you move to a merit-based pay system joined with an annual evaluation process, you will need to make some, or all, of a particular year’s pay adjustments in the form of merit increases,” he wrote, “not a COLA [cost of living adjustment].”

3. Strengthen the county’s ability to fire an employee on the first case of poor conduct “if it rises to a high level of impact.” Currently, the county can terminate an employee only if the staffer has two previous write-ups and a third one pending, Wood wrote.

He recommends that commissioners retain the policy for less serious offenses but add a provision that allows the county to fire an employee upon the first offense if their performance creates “a major operational issue, significant financial impacts, damage to the reputation of the county or are so egregious that they warrant immediate, more severe disciplinary action.”

4. Transfer responsibility for disciplining the internal auditor to the county audit committee. This measure would protect the auditor from retaliation or harassment from any county official, including the county manager.

“That provides this position with the necessary independence to perform the job well,” Wood wrote. “In light of recent indictments, this is particularly critical.”

Other business

  • The Buncombe County Schools Board of Education has approved two lottery fund applications for school capital funding. One application requests $225,000 to help fund the construction of a pool on the T.C. Roberson High School campus and another requests $500,000 for LED lighting upgrades. The Board of Commissioners must approve these applications before the system submits them to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
  • Commissioners will vote on a resolution making Dustin Clark the deputy finance officer, giving him the authority to act in the place of the finance officer when necessary. He currently holds the title of Business Officer 1.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, in the third-floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. See the full agenda here.

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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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2 thoughts on “Commissioners to consider solar farm lease with Duke

  1. jason

    This is just going to end up costing tax payers money to satisfy the egos of the commissioners. How about just doing your job and try to help the citizens.

  2. jason

    Is there any consideration to the environmental impact associated with construction and disposal of solar panels? These things are toxic and the heavy metals necessary to build them come from war torn countries with numerous human rights violations.

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