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Solar farm moratorium defeated

WINTON – A proposed moratorium on the issuance of zoning permits for solar energy farms met its demise here Thursday evening.

In a 4-0 vote, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners declined to adopt the moratorium, one first proposed to the board back in December.

The vote on Thursday came during a meeting recessed from Jan. 20 where a public hearing was held on the matter. Of the seven individuals who spoke at the hearing, they were all in agreement that constructing solar farms in Hertford County should move forward in a timely manner. Those seven individuals were either landowners whose property is being considered to site a solar farm or were representatives of solar energy companies interested in Hertford County land.

Hertford County is a favorite among green energy development firms with one solar farm currently in operation, two in the construction phase, and as many as 21 others waiting in the wings.

The idea of a moratorium was initially pitched to the Commissioners just prior to Christmas by Hertford County Economic Development Director Bill Early. He said the moratorium is necessary since the county currently has no guidelines in place for the location and development of solar farms in any of the county’s zoning district. Guidelines may address appropriateness of districts, possible Conditional Use or Special Use permits and criteria for setbacks, visibility and decommissioning.

“The moratorium on the issuance of zoning permits will allow our Planning Board the necessary time to review guidelines in place in other jurisdictions and develop guidelines suitable for adoption here,” Early remarked at the Jan. 20 meeting.

“Hertford County supports renewable energy and solar farm development, however, locations for this type of development must protect the public interest, which includes scarce land for heavy industry and protection of residential development,” Early added.

As pointed out at the Jan. 20 meeting, solar farm projects benefit from investment tax credits from the state, which expire at the end of this year. In order to qualify for the tax credit, solar farms need to in operation by Dec. 31, 2015.

Speaking at the Jan. 20 meeting, Chris Killenberg of Community Energy, a solar farm development company based in Chapel Hill, said his firm currently has two projects planned in Hertford County, one on NC 11 south of Ahoskie and the other located near Winton. He is hopeful that both will be completed this year in order to qualify for the tax credits, but voiced concern over the delays caused by the possible passage of the moratorium.

“Our concern would be if there is a 90-day period of determining what the ordinance is, it pushes the date at which we want to start our projects here out so far into the year where we are at risk completing the projects by the end of the year,” Killenberg said.

Based on their vote Thursday night, it appears the Commissioners agreed with the plight of Killenberg as well as the other solar projects currently under development in the county. However, the board did agree, as part of a motion to deny the moratorium, to have the Hertford County Planning Board to continue to review and research possible future restrictions and regulations applicable to solar energy farm projects which have not applied for permits or have not expended substantial sums based on past interpretation at the time of enactment of any amendments to the Zoning Ordinance.

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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