Hamlet shreds draft solar farm ordinance

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Maggie Clark, of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, addresses the Hamlet City Council before council members suggested significant changes to the proposed solar farm ordinance.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Maggie Clark, of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, addresses the Hamlet City Council before council members suggested significant changes to the proposed solar farm ordinance.

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

HAMLET — Representatives of the solar farm industry addressed members of the Hamlet City Council and Mayor Bill Bayless on Tuesday to commend them, mostly, on the city’s draft solar farm ordinance.

And then council members shredded it. Well, practically.

“In small Richmond County, no one’s going to buy a home where that’s what they’re going to see,” said Councilman Johnathan Buie.

After significant changes, the council adopted the draft ordinance 5-0 — and essentially eliminated the possibility of a solar farm along Freedom Mill Road on the outskirts of Hamlet.

Councilman Jesse McQueen said that homeowners “don’t’ want to be around any of these things. I just don’t see where this is going to benefit the city. The size that would be required for (a business owner) to make money … basically, what we’re doing (is) approving an ordinance that would allow someone to put something outside city limits but would harm and hurt our citizens.”

This image from Google Maps shows the approximate area of a proposed solar farm, which, coincidentally, was not intended to be a primary focus of discussion during a public hearing about the city of Hamlet's draft solar farm ordinance.

This Google Maps image shows the approximate area of a proposed solar farm, which, coincidentally, was not intended to be a primary focus of discussion during a public hearing about the city of Hamlet’s draft solar farm ordinance.

While the draft ordinance was not intended tonight to target any specific project — planned or otherwise — it put the possible project along Freedom Mill Road in its crosshairs as the parcel is located within Hamlet’s ETJ, or extraterritorial jurisdiction. Owned by FLS Energy, the 50-acre parcel would have allowed a project of roughly 20,000 solar panels on about 25 to 28 acres, according to Greg Ness.

Ness is a shareholder with FLS Energy, an Asheville-based company, and serves as assistant general counsel. The 50-acre parcel is situated off State Route 117 north of Freeman Mill Road and near one residential area along Greenfield Road and another near Tarheel Drive, and it is zoned Residential-Agriculture. One of the key changes council members approved tonight was the eliminate of Level 2 or Level 3 solar farm operations in RA zoning districts.

A Level 1 solar project is basically, officials said, panels a homeowner puts on top of a private roof.

Maggie Clark, of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, address council before members’ discussion and largely commended them on the draft ordinance, which closely followed a template supported by her agency.

Clark did take issue with a few items in the draft ordinance. First, she questioned why the setback of a Level 2 project was 125 feet. Normally that’s reserved for larger, Level 3 solar farms. Clark also questioned the draft ordinance’s decommissioning standards, required if the project would go six months without generating power. She said that timeframe could be too short to allow for impact from a significant weather event or extended repairs.

Clark also tried to diffuse those in the audience who spoke aloud, some without giving their names, about property values. It was a concern among council members as well. It shouldn’t be, Clark said. A study in California on the impact of solar farms on property values showed that solar farms “actually increased property values.”

She noted the result was “counterintuitive” but true. That, too, didn’t play well with the east coast crowd and Clark acknowledged she wasn’t aware of any studies completed in North Carolina on the issue.

“I don’t think you can compare North Carolina to California,” said Councilman Jesse McQueen.

Ness pointed out that in the FLS Energy project — not yet even applied for — the buffer from the nearest property line was some 300 feet, equivalent to a football field.

It is, Ness said, “a very substantial buffer, above and beyond what we normally do.”

Ness also suggested he’d be open to the idea of annexing the property into the city, which would add to the city’s tax base. Neither element satisfied the council.

“In my opinion, a football field just isn’t far enough,” said Buie to a crowded meeting chamber filled with local residents vocally advocating for tighter restrictions and, in particular, advocating against the FLS Energy project.

No one in the crowd said they were against solar energy — but nobody said they wanted a solar farm within sight of their front porch.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News

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  • Mark

    This is why we can’t have nice things. It’s called NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. Everyone gives lip service to alternative forms of energy, knowing full well that the oil glut cannot last forever, yet when the time comes to pay the piper, no one wants to do the deed. We want what we want, but we want it kept out of sight so we don’t have to think about the consequences. Some of us really need to grow up.

    • JB

      No one’s going to buy a home where you can see a solar farm? How ridiculous. People live next door to used car lots, cemeteries, etc., etc. Tell us the REAL reason you are opposed to the solar farm.

      • Mark

        I couldn’t possibly agree more. The city council members made themselves sound ignorant.

  • JD

    I am proud of the Council in this matter. They are here to protect the City and its citizens. With this matter, their job was absolutely fulfilled. I believe solar is a great green energy, just not in a residential neighborhood.

  • Time4Change

    Didn’t realize there were 50 vacant acres in the middle of a residential neighborhood….in the ETJ.

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