The Next Big Site for Your Cleantech Economic Development Project – Your Local Wastewater Treatment Plant?

About the Author

Jeff Hughes

Jeff Hughes was the Director of the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the UNC School of Government between 2003 and 2019. Hughes currently serves as a Commissioner in the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Jeff Hughes is a Director of the School of Government’s Environmental Finance Center and a School of Government Faculty Member

What would you say to an economic development initiative that brings together a diverse set of partners; effectively advances local, state, and global environmental goals; relies on cutting edge technology; pays for staff planning and oversight time; creates local constructions jobs; leads to good publicity; and makes use of underutilized government assets?  Is it simply an economic developer’s pipe dream? Actually, several local governments in Wake County have   recently completed projects that do all of the above and more through new utility scale Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installations (“farms”).  Interestingly, these projects were not sited at a government supported industrial parks or a greenfields marked for high tech development, but rather at wastewater treatment plants.  A 1.3 Mega Watt (MV) facility at the City of Raleigh’s Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant site began operation in December of 2011 and the Town of Cary recently completed a separate agreement for a 1.8 MW installation on their wastewater treatment property.  Both installations rely on creative partnerships between an investor owned utility, private solar developers, investors, and an array of city departments.  In order to make these projects financially feasible, the partnerships had to take into consideration an array of state and national regulations governing solar energy finance incentives. For example, access to significant state and federal tax incentives required that the facilities be owned by private companies. As a result, private developers and their investors brought capital to the projects and are responsible for their construction, maintenance and ownership. The local governments brought land and leadership. The price of the government land — a long term lease agreement that provides the cities with modest annual payments (rent) that help cover some oversight costs.  Under the terms of the projects, each city maintains an option to purchase the facilities at predetermined future dates.  For more information on the projects, contact David McNulty, Town of Cary Public Works and Utilities Operations Analyst, at or 919-319-4558 or Julian Prosser, City of Raleigh Assistant City Manager, at or 919-996-3840. For general information on these types of governmental private partnerships in North Carolina, contact Jeff Hughes at or 919-843-4956.



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