Pudding Ridge solar farm OKd

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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County commissioners approved a solar farm on 50 acres off Pudding Ridge Road on a 3-2 vote in what one long-time commissioner said was one of the toughest decisions of his career.

The decision came after nearly 20 people spoke, some in favor, some against, and others saying the county needs to do more to regulate solar farms.

A hearing for a farm of more than 800 acres is scheduled for later this month.

“This was an excruciatingly difficult decision for all five members of this board,” said Richard Poindexter. He made the motion to approve the Pudding Ridge solar farm, and was joined by board chair Terry Renegar and James Blakley. Members Benita Finney and Mark Jones voted against the proposal.

Poindexter said while he is not a fan of solar and wind power, he expects more federal mandates and incentives to increase their usage.

The property is owned by Charlie Howell, who requested the zoning change.

“Mr. Howell is trying to keep an income on this property and preserve his farm for future generations,” Poindexter said. “Farm uses could be much more detrimental or worse.”

Jones said the number of solar farms in Davie County are quickly amassing too much land, and there is no guarantee that any of the electricity produced here will be used here. “We have to discuss this ina broader way … prior to anything else coming before us.”

Finney said she respects the family, but the problems with wind and solar – including disposal of used panels – hasn’t been solved.

“I have struggled mightily with this. Nothing tonight has changed my mind,” Renegar said. “Being a strong Republican, I appreciate landowners’ rights.” He instructed County Manager David Bone and staff to come up with a different plan by the next meeting, one that more clearly spells out the rules and that takes some of the subjectivity out of the process.

Most of the opposition came from the Pudding Ridge neighborhood, and even they were thankful the project’s developer changed the site plan to further diminish views from their homes.

“The new site plan goes a long way … to alleviate the view,” said Amy Backus, “but there is a  much broader issue with solar in Davie. We have concerns as what to expect next.”

Several speakers said they are worried that the 50-acre site could be expanded, which EnergyUnited officials, which will receive electricity from the site, said would be unlikely for financial reasons.

“I’m not absolutely convinced about the science,” said John Snyder. “Much of this argument (for wind and solar power) is politically driven.” He said the debate on whether the total carbon emissions from wind and solar are less than carbon based fuels is up for debate.

Others said property values could go down, and others said each decision should be a vote of the people.

“Our concern is with the direction we are going. It seems we have no clear plan,” said Julie Smith.

“We can’t continue to whack the mole figuring out what to do,” said Chris Gaskin.

Andy Backus called the county’s plan of commissioners deciding “bad policy.” “Don’t we deserve forward planning and higher-level thinking? Shouldn’t we all know how much is enough? Lead us with a clear vision. Do not succumb to a practice of contentious executive actions.”

Wayne Sykes said a solar farm makes a good neighbor, and when its use is finished, the land reverts back to its original state.

Three members of the Howell family also spoke at the meeting.

“Change is just part of what happens,” said Matt Howell, Charlie’s son. “People moving in want to make the loudest noise and dictate what they want by making the loudest noise. We trust ya’ll,” he said to commissioners. “Do what’s best for the folks who worked hard to own that property … and do with that property as they choose.”

Charlie Howell said he wants to keep the land in the family instead of converting it to housing developments as is happening across the county. The lease revenue from the solar farm will allow the property to stay in the family, he said.

“I would much rather see it (solar farm) than a housing development,” said Jordan Howell, Charlie’s son who lives adjacent to the site. “I don’t think the solar farm will be an intrusive neighbor at all.”

Landon Abernathy, director of development for Birds Eye Solar, agreed that the county needs a more clear path for companies to make applications.

Don Vernon said he would not have purchased nearby property if a solar farm had been there.