Northampton Commissioners start discussion on solar farms

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners began a discussion on solar farms at their regular meeting here on Feb. 1 with the intention of continuing the topic as more information is gathered.

Board Chair Charles Tyner raised the subject, stating that they needed to start thinking about solar farms and how that would impact the future of Northampton County. He said some citizens had approached him with concerns.

“How do we want Northampton County to look? Do we want all of our farmland and part of our timberland to be used as solar farms,” he asked during his comments. “Can you imagine what Northampton County would look like with solar farms everywhere?”

In his personal opinion, he said he thought there should be a balance in the county between solar farms, traditional farms, and tree farms, but he admitted he didn’t know exactly what that balance would look like. He also posed the question of whether or not they’d want to implement more stipulation on solar farms or to increase the number within the county.

“I think we need to start looking [at the possibilities]. Let’s be proactive about this,” he said. “It’s about the future.”

Tyner said he wanted to know what kind of economic impact solar farms have on the county, especially in regards to taxes.

“They don’t bring any jobs to Northampton County,” he added, noting that the construction jobs to install a solar farm are only temporary.

“It’s not that we don’t want them,” Tyner concluded. “I just want the citizens to be involved.”

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards agreed that some sort of committee to discuss solar farms would be a good idea, noting that the county already had many solar farms in the area between Seaboard and Pleasant Hill.

“This is not going to be an easy topic,” said Commissioner Geneva Faulkner.

She recalled public hearings about solar farms in previous years which had people speaking up in favor and against the idea. Some people were adamant about renewable energy, she noted, while others were adamant about not hurting other forms of agriculture.

Faulkner also said they should consider things such as size, explaining that some people these days may prefer to just have a few solar panels on their property.

Tyner directed County Manager Charles Jackson to look more into the topic of solar farms to bring back information for discussion at a future meeting.

This is not the first time the commissioners have touched on the topic of solar farms. As recently as Dec. 2020, the board unanimously approved a rezoning request for 10 parcels of land on Highway 46 just west of Gaston. The stated use of that 600+ acres of land was for a solar farm from SunEnergy1.

As previously reported by the News Herald, in Oct. 2020, the Hertford County Commissioners chose to enact a temporary moratorium on solar farms within their county, though it did not include solar farms which had already secured a permit. Board Chair Ronald Gatling stated the pause on issuing solar farm permits would allow them time to further investigate the topic.

That investigation would include issues such as zoning, landscaping, vegetative buffering, loss of farmland, property valuations, environmental effects, and more.

Hertford County is currently home to 13 solar farms, including one of the largest in the state, and the county collects approximately $374,000 in tax revenue annually from those farms.