County OKs more restrictions on big solar

Published 9:53 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

The industrial solar industry isn’t something Davie County needs or wants.

Despite that opinion, members of the county’s planning board re-wrote the county’s ordinance regulating solar, and those recommendtions were approved by county commissioners last month.

It makes a large-scale solar facility less likely to happen here.

“Further solar in Davie County is not beneficial, and gives us substantial risks,” Miriam Wright, planning board chair, told county commissioners.

She gave some statistics from the solar facilities already approved: $140,000 provided for some $9 million in de-commissioning costs; 8 facilities changed ownership more than 50 times, all have changed ownership at least once.

“The real concern is that it creates a huge lack of confidence in respect to their motives and to their long-term commitment to Davie County,” she said.

Decommissioning contracts only show ownership on three of five solar sites, and on those three, the landowner is responsible for the cost of decommissioning. She wonders if the landowners even know that, or could provide the money. “That tenancy ownership with decommissioning costs gives substantial financial risks to the county.”

If nothing else, the county’s ordinance should provide for the decommissioning costs (estitmated at $115 per megawatt), and require a risk benefit analysis.

Andy Baccus, Nick Slogick, Dr. Bonnie Grigsby and Herb Eckerland all spoke in favor of the stricter ordinance.

Eckerland, an N.C. State professor who has studied and been a proponent of solar engergy for many years, agreed with Wright that the way solar companies operate is wrong.

“Solar energy is very inefficient, 75 times more than coventional,” he said. “These LLCs (solar companies), means they are not personally responsible for debts and liabilities. That bothers me, even as a solar proponent. Why should you commit your county for 30 years with someone who is gone in three. What are you going to do when a solar developer walks away without notice? What if it is sold to someone who is only in business for tax credits and know nothing about solar? I’m concerned about that.”

“The planning board has done a wonderful job of digging into these … Bernie Madoff kind of deals,” Slogick said. “It’s not a farm, it’s an industrial wasteland.”

“Davie County has enough solar,” Grigsby said. “There’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and you’re addressing it.” The county was wise to quit listening to solar developers when writing ordinances, she said. “Require strigent financial commitments before OKing solar You will protect fugture generations from the costly mistakes of industrial solar development.”

Baccus has a hands-on experience, having questioned the county’s approval of a 50-acre solar site near his Pudding Ridge home. “Now, before the project is even built, I understand it is on its third owner. We can’t find anyone who can make a decision. We have no idea of what is happening with the project.”

Mark Hager said that solar facilities are one way for farmers to hold onto their land as farming becomes less profitable. The new rules, he said, takes an option away that farmers need.

The new rules include – in addition to more stringent setback requirements – that solar companies must do an enviornmental impact analysis and obtain all state permits before making an application with the county. Decisions would have to go through at least two planning board, and two county commission meetings. The company would also have to notify the county of each ownership change, including contact numbers.

The rules were approved on a 4-1 vote, with Benita Finney voting against it.

“The use of farmland for solar farms is not the only terrible use of farmland in Davie County,” Finney said. “The next time someone comes in and tries to cover up farmland with concrete and warehouses, I hope you support that, as well.” The new rules, she said, take landowner rights out of the equation.

Commissioners’ discussion then switched to protecting farmers, with Mark Jones suggesting the county look at creative ways to provide tax help to certain generational landowners.

Poindexter also said he didn’t believe in taking away rights for farmers, but voted in favor of the ordinance. “We’ve narrowed what they can do with their land to be able to live out the rest of their lives in comfort.”

Terry Renegar said that while he is in favor of landowner rights, he questions the emphasis on solar energy. “The long term benefits of solar, I just don’t see it for the greater good. I don’t see how we need any more. If the science gets refined, more efficient, we could revisit it. I just don’t see it being viable.”

Jones made the motion to approve the ordinance. “Let’s move with this. It’s a good step, but we may hae to revisit this in a year or so.”