Polk approves text amendment to allow solar farms

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vote split 3-2

Polk County Commissioners approved a text amendment to its zoning ordinance on Monday, Oct. 15 to allow for solar energy farms.
The vote to allow the farms was split 3-2 with commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott and commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack approving the text amendment and commissioner chair Ray Gasperson and commissioner Cindy Walker voting against it.
The reason Gasperson and Walker said they voted against was because they wanted solar farms 20 acres and or less to require a conditional use permit.
Lionel Gilbert, of Green Creek proposed the text amendment and wants to use approximately 15 acres of his farm land to lease for a solar farm to generate energy to sell to Duke Energy.
“This is a new thing and I’m very pro-solar,” Walker said. “We know Gilbert will protect his land and his neighbor’s land but that may not always be the case. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to have this as a conditional use.”
Major solar farms, or panels placed on 20 acres or more will require a conditional use permit, which means the application will first go to the zoning board of adjustment for approval and neighboring properties will be notified regarding the proposal.
The new language for solar energy generating facilities is allowed in the MU (multiple use) and I (industrial) zoning districts in the county.
All solar farms shall be completely enclosed with a six feet high black or green chain link fence or masonry wall or wooden fence that contains spacing no greater than six inches, states the new language.
Solar farms shall also be maintained in good working condition and be free from debris and nuisances. Where facilities are no longer utilized for energy generation for a period of six months or longer the property owner shall have the panels and switch gear removed, states the zoning ordinance.
County attorney Mike Egan said the ordinance will not affect residents who have solar panes for personal use.
Gasperson said he is in favor of requiring a conditional use permit for both minor and major solar farms saying it’s a good neighbor process.
“If you have neighbors on board it’s not going to be a problem,” said Gasperson.
Commissioners held a public hearing with no comments made on Monday.
Gilbert’s proposal for his farmland in the MU district is 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 due to the cost of investment.
The benefits to farming families, Gilbert said, is solar farms will add secure income to the active farmer, an estimated $22,000 per year worth of income.
He said the plight of farming families has been droughts, disease and increasing food and equipment costs and solar farms can be a new option for farmers.
North Carolina passed Senate Bill 3 in 2007 requiring that the state produce at least 12.5 percent of its own energy by 2021, which makes the state the first that is forcing the concept of being green.

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