Solar shutdown

Published 9:47 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

GATESVILLE – The Gates County Board of Commissioners discussed a solar farm ordinance during its Aug. 3 meeting and will further address the issue of extending the county’s moratorium on solar farms at its next scheduled meeting on Aug. 15.

At issue is what happens when the solar farms are decommissioned in the future.

The commissioners are concerned that local landowners would be adversely affected when the solar farms shut down.

The energy companies seeking to build solar farms do not think a decommissioning plan is needed, explained Board Chairwoman Linda Hofler. The energy companies, she contended, say the payoff from the metals left in and on the ground would offset any costs incurred by landowners when the solar farms shut down.

Commissioner Henry Jordan said, “We need a decommissioning plan in place. We don’t want to see abandoned solar farms throughout the county.”

Vice-Chairman Jack Owens suggested that “a qualified, impartial engineer with no vested interest” oversee any solar farm decommissioning.

The county’s Planning Board has strongly recommended to the commissioners having a decommissioning plan in place. As it stands now, a Planning Board spokesperson said, landowners would be responsible for the full cost of closing a solar farm.

This would include proper disposal of the solar panels, which have a limited lifespan. It also includes electrical lines going from the solar farms to the grid that are buried several feet belowground.

While some the wire could raise some funds by the landowner through recycling, the Planning Board believes the landowner would be on the hook.

The Planning Board spokesman said one energy company that builds solar farms said no solar farm in the state has or needs a decommissioning plan, but he said he quickly found that Catawba County has an ordinance in place dealing with this issue.

The Planning Board will meet later this month to review the Catawba County plan.

Commissioner Billy Felton said he disagrees with relying on landowners recouping costs through some kind of salvage plan currently being proposed by the solar energy companies.

“It puts too much burden on landowners,” he said. “There should be a bond [from the solar companies] to cover the full cost.”

The commissioners agreed, although there was no formal vote to that effect, that a bond be put up by the solar companies to cover the full cost of clean up of the land.

As for the cost to the companies offering the bonds, Hofler said, “That’s the cost of doing business.”

Felton praised the members of the Planning Board for bringing this matter to the board’s attention.

“I want to thank the Planning Board for their time and dedication,” he said.

Freeman added, “These folks are motivated and dedicated. Their goals are our goals.”

The Planning Board will bring its recommendations to the commissioners during one of its September meetings.