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Hertford County halts new construction of solar farms

WINTON – Hertford County has officially approved a measure that puts a temporary halt to the issuance of permits related to new construction of solar farm facilities.

The moratorium, approved unanimously at Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, became immediately effective on that date (Oct. 19) and lasts until June 30, 2021.

The commissioners agreed to implement a moratorium following a public hearing during their Oct. 5 scheduled meeting. Since that time, the exact wording of the moratorium was developed, which was approved at Monday night’s meeting.

North Carolina General Statute 153A-340(h) allows a county to enact a moratorium that “address[es] the problem or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.”

“At our last meeting I stated that a moratorium gives us the opportunity to investigate better use of our current document [zoning ordinance],” stated Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling.

Murfreesboro attorney Charles “Chuck” Revelle III, who serves as legal counsel to the commissioners, gave a timetable of what has previously transpired on this issue, saying a public hearing was held on Oct. 5.

“You heard comments from the public at that meeting,” Revelle noted. “You’ve also gotten phone calls; you’ve gotten a petition; you’ve gotten written material [all about solar farms in the county]. You held a workshop where you had some discussion about those things.

“The moratorium’s purpose is to allow the [county] planning board and the commissioners time to examine a host of issues surrounding solar farms,” Revelle said, adding that the wording of the moratorium specifically addressed those issues.

The issues mentioned by Revelle within the moratorium include consideration of zoning, setbacks, landscaping, fencing, vegetative buffering, insurance requirements, loss of farmland, soil types, aesthetics, impact on agriculture-related businesses in the county, possible decline in adjoining property valuations, environmental effects, evaluation of state and federal regulations, expressed public opinion, the county’s land use plan, and decommissioning plans of solar farms at the end of their life expectancy.

Once all those issues are addressed, the commissioners may decide to make changes to the county zoning ordinance. More specifically, the moratorium states that the county will be conducting a comprehensive review and revision of its Planning/Zoning/Subdivision ordinances to be completed by June 30, 2021, and this much time is needed to gather and evaluate information outlined herein.

It further states that absent a moratorium on development of solar farm facilities, there are no alternative ways to prevent unsound development since large sections of the county’s planning jurisdiction are zoned to allow development of solar farm facilities.

During the period of this moratorium no building, zoning, conditional use or special use permit(s) shall be issued for new construction, or the expansion of an existing structure(s), which will result in the existence or expansion of a solar farm facility. This moratorium shall not be interpreted to prevent the issuance of permits either applicable to any tract of land containing one acre or less, or applicable to a solar collector having an accessory use independent of a solar farm facility.

The commissioners did agree to exclude solar farm facilities that were in the permitting stages of development. Specifically, the moratorium does not apply to any project for which a valid building permit issued pursuant to G.S. 153A-357 is outstanding, to any project for which a conditional use permit application or special use permit application has been accepted, to development set forth in a site-specific or phased development plan approved pursuant to G.S. 153A-344.1, to development for which substantial expenditures have already been made in good faith reliance on a prior valid administrative or quasi-judicial permit or approval, or to preliminary or final subdivision plats that have been accepted for review by the county prior to the call for public hearing to adopt the moratorium, nor shall it apply to any project for which a building permit application has been received before the effective date and time of the adoption of this moratorium, provided said application is complete and would otherwise be approved in the normal course of review and action by county officials in the absence of a moratorium.

Regardless of the end date (6-30-21) shown on the document, the commissioners have the power to lift the moratorium at any time they choose.

Hertford County is currently the home to 13 solar farms, including one of the largest in the state: a 400,000 panel, 80-Megawatt facility on Joe Holloman Road off NC 11 in the vicinity of Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Combined, the county collects approximately $374,000 in tax revenue annually from the 13 solar farms.

As of Oct. 6, there are current contracts/permits in place to construct three additional solar farms in the county, including one along US 158 near Murfreesboro that is 80 percent complete.

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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