Northampton extends solar farm moratorium

Published 5:43 pm Friday, February 4, 2022

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JACKSON – The wait to construct new solar farm facilities will continue a little longer than originally intended.

The Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved an extension to the solar farm moratorium at their special called meeting here on Jan. 31, the day the moratorium was originally set to expire.

The hold on obtaining solar farm permits will now continue until April 30.

The moratorium was enacted by the commissioners in July 2021 in order to give the county Planning Board the opportunity to gather and conduct research about the impact of solar facilities, and see if any adjustments need to be made to the county’s current regulations.

According to County Attorney Scott McKellar, due to delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancelation of a commissioners’ meeting earlier in January, the Planning Board has not yet been able to present their findings to the board or to the public. He also noted that a public hearing on the topic was also affected by the previous meeting cancelation and would need to be rescheduled.

Commissioner Nicole Boone had a few questions about their next steps while the extension is in place, and McKellar explained that a new public hearing should be scheduled soon. It would be at the commissioners’ discretion if they wanted to modify the length of the moratorium after that.

Without any further discussion by the board, Commissioner Geneva Faulkner motioned to accept the new resolution to extend the moratorium. Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe seconded, and the vote was unanimously in favor.

At the time the moratorium was put in place, Northampton County Code Enforcement Director William Flynn stated the county already had 15 solar farm facilities, totaling about 6,200 acres altogether. Three of those 15 were still in the process of being constructed then.

Those numbers do not include solar facilities located within the jurisdiction of any municipalities in the county, such as ones located in Garysburg and Woodland.

The moratorium resolution stated that more information is needed in several areas in order to evaluate the county’s approach to planning solar facilities. That information included studies on the loss of farmland, soil types, aesthetics, impact on agriculture-related businesses in the county, possible decline in adjoining property valuations, environmental effects, zoning, setbacks, vegetative buffering, decommissioning plans, insurance requirements, and more.

During the moratorium period, no permits will be issued for new construction or expansion. It will not, however, prevent the issuance of permits applicable to any tract of land one acre or less, or applicable to a solar collector with an accessory use independent of a solar farm facility.

The pause on new permits will not affect any project which was already issued a permit beforehand.

Board Chair and Interim County Manager Charles Tyner explained when they first enacted the moratorium, “All we want to be is proactive. It’s not that we do not want more solar farms. I hope the public understands that. It just means we’re going to do it in an organized, systematic way in Northampton County.”

A similar moratorium was put in place in neighboring Hertford County in 2020 to explore putting tougher restrictions in place for solar farm developers. Those restrictions, which included a new 200-foot setback regulation, became a part of the county’s revised land use ordinance, which was approved in June 2021.

After approving those new regulations, the Hertford County Commissioners let their moratorium automatically expire that same month.