Polk eyes allowing solar panel farms

Published 5:20 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Henderson Coiunty Planning Director Anthony Starr at a solar panel farm similar to the one Lionel Gilbert has requested permission to install on his property in Green Creek. (photo submitted)

Planning board recommends text amendment
Polk County commissioners are considering allowing solar panel farms in Polk County.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Sept. 10 and heard a presentation from farm owner Lionel Gilbert, who is requesting a text amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow solar farms in the Multiple Use (MU) and Industrial (I) zoning districts.
Gilbert also presented the request to the Polk County Planning Board on Sept. 13, when the board approved recommending the text amendment to commissioners.
Gilbert requested permission to have a solar farm on his property, which is located in the MU district in Green Creek Township. Solar farms are not currently listed in the county zoning ordinance use table.
The recommendation is to allow energy-generating facilities of 20 acres or less as a permitted use in the MU and I zoning districts and for energy generating facilities greater than 20 acres to be allowed as a conditional use in the MU and I districts.
The planning board is also recommending similar text for the proposed Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
Gilbert said in 2007 North Carolina passed Senate Bill 3, which requires the state to produce at least 12.5 percent of its own energy by 2021. This bill makes the state the first in the nation to force the concept of being “green” in energy production.
Gilbert said large solar generating facilities (20 acres or more) are not a likely option for Polk County, but smaller farms do seem likely, especially for farmland.
The proposal for Gilbert’s property specifies a 2-megawatt facility, which would include panels encompassing 12 to 15 acres of land and would supply enough energy for about 200 homes per year.
Gilbert said it will cost the company about $5 million to create the 2-megawatt facility, so the county won’t see a lot of these energy generating facilities because of the high investment cost. Energy created from the solar farm would be connected to Duke Energy.
The benefits to farming families, Gilbert said, is solar farms will add secure income to the active farmer, an estimated $22,000 per year income. He said the plight of farming families has been droughts, disease and increasing food and equipment costs.
“All we did was struggle to eat from the farm,” Gilbert said. “The farmer has never had a chance and we’ve never been a big farm county.”
On Gilbert’s property, the proposed panels would not be visible from adjoining properties or the roads. The proposed text amendment also includes provisions for setbacks, including that energy generating facilities be no closer than 200 feet from any residence other than that of the property owners and at least 40 feet from property lines. The text amendment includes other provisions as well, such as fencing, lighting and height restrictions.
Gilbert also said on his property uses such as chicken houses, greenhouses and hogs are currently allowed. He said a solar farm would be a better use for the property given it will be an unseen, odorless facility producing a renewable energy source.
“I’m asking for this amendment to make this work not just for me and my family but for other families to help them survive,” Gilbert told commissioners. “Let’s make this happen.”
A public hearing will be required before commissioners vote on adopting the text amendments.

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