Solar moratorium extended for six months

Published 10:23 am Thursday, January 20, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt
Enterprise Record

Davie County commissioners have extended the moratorium for new solar electricity generating facilities for six months, until Aug. 3.
The move came after board members heard from Andrew Meadwell, county planning director, after the planning board had been tasked with re-writing the county’s ordinance regarding solar facilities.
And when that ordinance eventually goes into effect, it appears that it will be much more difficult for such facilities to be built in Davie County.
The planners’ document, although good, “needs some refinement,” said Commissioner Richard Poindexter.
“The overall feel from the planning board is that they did not see a real need for any further solar development in the county,” Meadwell said. “We have over 600 acres now.”
Board members cited, among other reasons, is that some of the already built solar facilities have changed owners several times, which makes it more difficult to enforce decommission rules, or bringing the land back to its original state after the facility is no longer used.
“The ability to track those and to keep up with them is a real concern to the board.”
The planning board thinks Davie has maxed out on solar facilities, and any new one “would have to be that perfect piece of property.”
The planners did come up with some changes to the ordinance that commissioners approved of, but are delaying a vote.
Such facilities, under the new proprosed rules, would have to go through a seven-step process to gain approval, including two community meetings, and two meetings before both the planning and county boards.
“The reason for this is there is so much information to process,” Meadwell said. “These are complicated proposals now. This process gives the responsible boards enough time … even the citizens enough time to process what is occurring and to process these issues.”
Among the proposed changes:
• sites must be a minimum of 25 acres and no more than 100 acres;
• equipment setbacks from neighboring property lines would go from 100 feet to 250 feet;
• three rows of three variety of trees must be planted as a buffer, at a minimum height of six feet when planted, and a type of tree that reaches 80 percent of height within four years;
• buffers must be maintained and certified yearly;
• no exterior lighting;
• battery storage must be at least 300 feet from property lines;
• an environmental impact study and impact analysis must be submitted with the original application;
• an erosion control plan must be approved;
• a visual simulation must be presented;
• an emergency access plan must be submitted, with the applicant paying for any special equipment local firefighters may need;
• the project must first be approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission;
• documentation of compliance must be approved every two years;
• property owners must reveal any changes in a lease agreement within 45 days;
• material specification for solar panels must be provided;
• PFAs (water repelling coatings) must be identified and include containment and decommission plans;
• board members should visit proposed sites;
• decommission costs are linked to megawatt size at 150 percent estimated cost;
• credits for salvage value are removed;
“It’s a good start, a good draft, but there probably needs to be more work done,” Meadwell told commissioners. “Solar facilities are increasing in size and scope. We should seek to understand solar more deeply and have more time to observe the changing landscape of those we have already approved.
“The risk of decommission costs and associated unknowns do not offset the tax revenue generated. Since lease interests routinely change hands … neither the county or the landowner can predict the financial health or responsibility of the eventual owner.”
Meadwell said the planning board took the matter seriously and worked diligently to meet the commissioners’ request.
Commissioner Benita Finney said the board needs to be careful not to deny someone the right to hold onto their family land they have been paying taxes on for years; and that leasing for solar may be their only hope of keeping that land.
Noone spoke at a public hearing on the proposed changes, although Dr. Bonnie Grigsby earlier in the meeting thanked the board for considering another six-month moratorium.
“This is a complex issue and we as a county are very inexperienced,” she said. “The larger these developments become, the greater the liability financially and the greater the volume of waste.”