Solar farms in need of further study

Published 8:37 am Thursday, December 18, 2014

WINTON – The good news is that Hertford County is an attractive location for solar energy farms.

The not so good news is that the county has no zoning regulations currently in place for such facilities.

The Hertford County Board of Commissioners addressed that issue here Monday night during their regularly scheduled meeting. Following an update on the matter from Bill Early, Administrator for the county’s Planning and Zoning Board, the Commissioners voted unanimously to call for a public hearing for the consideration of adopting a moratorium ordinance on the issuance of zoning permits for solar energy farms.

That public hearing is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Monday, January 20 in the Commissioners meeting room. If the measure is adopted, the moratorium would only impact permits for solar energy farms that are currently being planned within any zoning district in the county. It will not affect any solar farm project either under construction or has already obtained the proper permits.

“There has been a lot of activity over the past couple of years of companies looking at and optioning properties around the county for the potential development of solar farms,” Early told the Commissioners. “It has come to our (Planning & Zoning Board) attention that some of the locations being considered may not be the best locations or in the public’s best interest.”

At their meeting last week, Early said the Planning Board agreed to present a recommendation to the Commissioners to consider scheduling a public hearing regarding the moratorium. He said the matter bears further study prior to issuing any new permits for solar farms.

“We need parameters to put around these developments,” Early stressed. “This is not to prevent these developments, but rather that they are done in an orderly fashion.”

Commissioner Ronald Gatling asked Early in what zoning districts can a solar farm be developed. Early answered there are no such restrictions.

“Currently they are permitted in all zoning districts, to include residential,” Early stated. “In examining this there may be areas within the county that have large subdivisions and having a solar facility directly adjacent to an established subdivision may not be appropriate. There could be industrial locations in which they may not be appropriate.”

Early said the only requirements currently in place for the development of a solar farm are a zoning permit and a building permit.

“Right now we do not have any setbacks, guidelines or parameters for any solar farm,” Early said. “We need to come up with guidelines that will allow the county to have these solar farms properly in place.”

Currently, there is one solar farm in the county, located off US 158 east of Murfreesboro.

“I am aware that two others have been permitted in the county and will probably be constructed in 2015,” Early said.

Early that due to the growing popularity of solar farms in recent years, other counties are putting guidelines in place in regards to the development, construction and operation of these facilities.

“We need good, solid regulations in place….have specific guidelines within our zoning ordinance for these solar farms,” Early stated.

Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer offered a motion for the public hearing to be held, adding that the discussion by the county should include the possibility of placing limitations or restrictions on the sites available for use as solar energy farms. Gatling offered a second and the measure was approved by a 4-0 vote (Commissioner Curtis Freeman was absent from Monday’s meeting).

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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