Letter to the Editor: County should say no to big solar complexes

Published 10:57 am Friday, February 19, 2021

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To the editor:

We have watched with interest as Davie County has become a hotbed of solar development recently.

These are often referred to as farms as that seems to make them fit into our roots better, but they are really industrial sites, not farms. With the approval of the Pudding Ridge project this brings the total acreage of industrial solar complexes to 664 acres in Davie County. The newest site to be voted on by the planning and zoning board Feb. 23 will be 853 acres on Junction and Ratlege roads just north of Cooleemee. This more than doubles the amount of new solar industry in our county. This site would be about the size of eight Hanes Malls or two Carowinds theme parks.

Why is a corporation from California (Orion Renewable Energy) so interested in Davie County? Is it something special and unique about our location, our land, our people? It seems more likely that it is because we have no formal solar development plan for guiding this type of development in our county. Therefore, when these projects come before our county commissioners they have no written guidance to decide whether these fit into a frame work for our county as a whole. Commissioners said as much at the last meeting asking that county planners address this issue. And it’s not their fault. Who knew solar would come so fast and so big into our county? We need to take the time to come up with a well thought out plan before we as a county commit to a project as large as the Junction Road industrial solar complex.

So while the energy the sun emits is free for the taking, the cost of converting it into electricity seems far from it.  Some questions we have are:

1. If solar energy generation is cost effective on its own, why are federal tax credits up to 30 percent being offered for companies to develop it? How does Davie County benefit from this? Are any long term jobs being created in our county?

2. Is solar energy generation really environmentally friendly? What happens to old and broken panels containing hazardous materials? Are our waterways and ground water wells at risk?

3. Are these industrial sites able to return to fully productive farm land one day when the lease is up? Why do solar companies lease these lands instead of purchasing them? Is there environmental liability in owning this land? How much good agricultural land are we as Davie County willing to give up?

4. Who benefits from the solar energy generated? Does it stay here in Davie County or does it just disappear into the energy grid to supply big cities?

Lastly and most importantly, what is the real cost to us as citizens who love our rural roots and our close knit community? We have witnessed personally the fracturing of relationships among friends and neighbors and the tension between constituents and county leaders. This is why we’re asking for the county to vote “No” on this project at this time and allow our leaders to develop well thought out definitive solar development plan.

Drs. Bobby and Bonnie Grigsby