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Commissioners delay vote on eastern solar farm

SARAH LOWERY

Staff Writer

 

A proposed solar farm in eastern Lincoln County will be on hold following a decision by the Board of Commissioners Monday night, which came in front of a packed house that spilled over onto two floors of the Citizens Center auditorium.

Strata Solar’s request for a conditional-use permit to construct a 36-acre power-generation facility on the north and south sides of Webbs Road at Burton Lane in Catawba Springs Township will be put off for another 60 days after commissioners voted 3-1 for a continuance, with Carrol Mitchem in opposition and Cecelia Martin absent.

The request to do so was from former commissioner and nearby resident George Arena, who said the company, the largest solar-farm developer in the state, had not met a burden of proof that adjoining property owners would not be negatively impacted by the proposal.

The proposed farm would be surrounded by residential property, much of which is highly valued, and has caused quite a bit of concern among neighbors who believe their property values will be affected.

Arena asked for more time to allow for a community-involvement meeting and for a land appraisal. He also said that Strata Solar’s plans were incomplete and that the company had yet to propose a farm in other parts of the state that was totally surrounded by residential properties, many whose worth is in the millions.

He said these residents had not been given enough information or the chance to ask questions, evidenced by the large crowd in attendance for the meeting and a petition being circulated.

The majority of the board agreed, with the public hearing on the request to now be continued at a later date.

Several representatives of Strata Solar, including their attorney, were present to present their case during the hearing.

Lance Williams, site-development manager for the Chapel Hill-based company, emphasized the low impact of such farms, which use solar panels to generate energy from sunlight. Minimal grading work or gravel is required, he said.

He also stressed that once they are up and running, the sites, which are remotely monitored, generate no noise, traffic, emissions or garbage collection. Meanwhile, he added, they help boost local tax bases, though they provide no long-term employment.

Construction typically takes about 90 days, with the power generated at the facility sold to Duke Energy through a power purchase agreement.

Much of the night’s discussion centered on the proposed landscape buffer, which is not required but remained a concern for county officials and residents.

“We’re not trying to make it opaque,” Williams said when questioned on how adequate the buffer would be for maintaining low visibility.

Company officials’ claims on the low impact of the farms, as well as the landscape buffer being a “good-neighbor” gesture, elicited some laughs from the crowd.

Nonetheless, in making his point known, Mitchem several times emphasized that under current zoning regulations, the property could be used for a commercial chicken house or free-range hog operation with no notice required to be given to nearby residents.

Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners approved a Strata Solar farm in a more rural area in western Lincoln County, located on Tripple H Lane, roughly 1,200 feet west of Maiden Highway in Lincolnton Township.

 

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