Action delayed on solar farms

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 08:59 PM

A zoning ordinance dealing with solar farms and solar collectors prompted lengthy discussion during Monday night’s Vance County board of commissioner’s meeting.

Carolina Solar Energy made the initial request to amend the zoning ordinance, adding language dealing with solar collectors and solar farms.

Jordan McMillen, the county planning director, presented the ordinance that distinguished between large-scale solar farms and smaller scale, solar collector projects for homeowners and commercial businesses.

A motion passed for solar collectors to be permitted in all zoning districts. However, no action was taken on the zoning ordinance related to solar farms in favor of gaining more research.

“The larger scale projects are the ones that have greater impact,” McMillen said. “The proposed language limits those to just very particular zoning districts.”

Because of the amount of space needed, and potential impacts with large-scale projects, the ordinance limits solar-farm areas to agricultural-residential, light industrial, industrial mining, employment and institutional, and office institutional zoning districts.

Commissioner Gordon Wilder, representing District 3, spoke in opposition of including agriculture-residential as a zoning district permissible for solar farms.

“I feel that we voted on zoning to maintain the rural character of our community,” Wilder said. “I have no problem with solar farms being in light industrial areas.

“I think they would fit right in, in places like that, but I would be apposed, adamantly opposed, to including these in agriculture-residential areas.”

Dan Brummitt, with the planning and environmental committee, addressed concerns with removal costs.

“At some point they’ll become obsolete,” Brummitt said. “At that point there may be some removal cost and we want to try to find a proper way to ensure that removal is taken care of with these, and for that reason we need to do a little more research.”

Speaking in support of the zoning ordinance for solar farms was Benny Finch, former director of the Henderson-Vance County Economic Development Commission.

Finch has been working for a company in Durham for the past 14 months, assigning sites for solar farms from Vance County to eastern North Carolina.

“I’m speaking in favor of regulations being proposed by the planning board, and encouraging support of those,” Finch said. “Solar farms have helped keep the environment clean, reducing dependence on coal and oxygen.

“Solar farms are supported by state and federal government. They’re cost effective, and don’t need any county services.”

Deborah Brown, vice chairwoman of the commissioners, asked Brummitt for the recommendation coming from the planning and environmental committee.

“For farms it’s to do more research and take no action tonight,” Brummitt said. “The committee’s recommendation was favorable on collectors.”

Brummitt’s hopes are to address concerns with the disposal of solar farms, and take action on the issue during next month’s meeting of the board of commissioners.

“Benny Finch said he was working with someone, so we don’t want to delay anybody,” Brummitt said. “Hopefully we can get all that together and make a decision at the next meeting.”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.