Davie To Regulate Solar Farms

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 6, 2014

County commissioners OKd a zoning amendment that could allow more solar farms in the county, against the advice of a local resident who said there needs to be provisions for cleaning up “toxic and carcinogenic” materials once the farm is closed.

Before the amendment was approved, Davie had little control over the solar farms, one of which is being operated on Eaton Road in Mocksville and another being operated off Michaels Road.

County Planner Andrew Meadwell told the board that the farms had been considered a public utility with little or no regulation from the county. The amendment will allow the farms – with permits that address issues such as buffers from neighboring properties – in residential-agricultural (RA) and industrial zones.

“Is this a use that should be regulated?” Meadwell said the planning board thought so, and approved the recommendation. “We did think there is enough of an impact that could be created in rural areas.”

He said all sites zoned appropriately won’t be considered. There has to be a 10 percent slope on the land, facing south. Access to roads and existing utilities is also important.

Solar farms will be permitted in RA and industrial zones, with a special use permit required in R20 and R12 residential zones.

James Kowles of Farmington urged the board to wait because of “inadequate precautions.”

The average solar panel lasts about 20 years, and he said that clean-up of an old site is never considered as a part of operating costs. The panels contain heavy metals that could end up in the water and soil. “South facing land is also good for crops,” he said.

Electricity produced by solar panels is eight times more expensive to produce than natural gas, and companies erecting them are receiving 70 percent tax credits.

“We increase our risk with inadequate controls,” Kowles said. He suggested the companies be required to pay up front for clean up, money that would be returned if the site is cleaned when the farm is closed.

The board approved the amendment unanimously.