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Pinewood dump seen as possible site for solar farm

COLUMBIA, SC An old toxic waste dump at Lake Marion is being looked at as a site for a solar farm that could help reduce the nearly $4 million public cost of maintaining the 279-acre landfill each year, legislators said Tuesday.

The state House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday night that extended a tax break for those who install solar panels to generate energy in South Carolina.

But the bill also included an amendment that specifically provides an income tax credit for anyone to build, purchase or lease a solar farm at the closed Pinewood toxic waste landfill. The bill includes a 25 percent tax credit for the cost and installation on the Pinewood property, according to the bill.

Lawmakers did not name companies that might want to set up shop at Pinewood, but Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said “someone has expressed interest in a solar farm.’’

Smith said the tax credit is being offered to land the proposed solar farm’s operator, which approached the landfill manager recently.

The idea is part of a push to use old industrial sites in South Carolina as spots for solar farms. The Legislature already has approved a bill offering incentives for companies to establish solar farms at Superfund cleanup sites, Smith said. The idea is to foster the growth of solar power, while providing some use for abandoned and polluted land.

Pinewood, however, is not a Superfund site, so legislation was needed to encourage solar at the landfill that lies just a few football fields from Lake Marion, which is about a 45 minute drive southeast of Columbia. Smith said there is ample acreage on the site that does not have waste that could be used for a solar farm.

The legislation needs routine final approval from the House on Wednesday. A version of the bill has passed the state Senate, but Smith’s amendment would need approval from the upper chamber. Smith said he’s heard no opposition to his amendment from senators he’s spoken with. The Legislative session ends Thursday

Bringing a solar farm to the landfill could help defray the $3.9 million taxpayer cost for the site, Smith said. Any lease for the site could “reduce the burden for taxpayers,’’ Smith said in an interview after Tuesday night’s vote. He did not know how much a lease could generate, but said “even if it is a couple of hundred thousand dollars, that’s significant savings.’’

The Pinewood landfill closed about 15 years ago and its operator filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy settlement did not leave enough money to maintain the site to prevent leaks into Sparkleberry Swamp and Lake Marion, the state’s largest recreational reservoir. As a result, taxpayers are having to pick up the tab to maintain the property. Annual maintenance includes managing toxic water that builds up in chemical waste buried in the landfill.

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said the bill gained bi-partisan support, which speaks well of the state’s commitment to solar energy and its effort to find ways to reduce taxpayer costs at Pinewood.

The legislation, S626, passed the House 54-36 after extended debate over whether to extend any of the tax breaks. Opponents of the bill said the solar industry is being subsidized too greatly and it’s time for that to stop. Boosters of the bill said solar is a clean form of energy that South Carolina should seek to help expand.

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