County looks at solar farm regs
By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on August 15, 2013 1:46 PM
News-Argus file photo
Workers with Strata Solar build a new solar farm facility near LaGrange in this July photo. The farm is expected to be operational in September.
The county planning department is looking to update its zoning laws as the solar farm industry continues to grow in Wayne County.
During the Planning Board's meeting Tuesday night, a solar farm ordinance that would mandate building regulations -- such as setbacks, tree coverage and a surrounding fence -- for new solar farms was introduced, said County Planning Director Connie Price.
"Most communities around here are looking at their zoning. Solar farms are a new industry coming around. As zoning ordinances evolve with the potential uses, we amend the uses as new technology comes along. Who would have of thought of solar farms being here five years ago," Price said.
Currently, solar farms provide little more than stormwater runoff studies when applying for construction permits outside of city limits. With the new ordinance, solar farm site plans would have to meet fencing requirements and a minimum setback requirement if a developer decides to construct such a facility next to a church or school.
Representatives from Strata Solar attended Tuesday's meeting to discuss the ordinance. Price said these requirements are relatively standard, and that Strata Solar, a Chapel Hill-based solar farm company that is actively pursuing multiple projects in Wayne County, wanted to make sure that the ordinance was specific enough that they didn't have to deal with enforcement officers who may have different interpretations. For example, instead of just saying "tree line," Strata was requesting that the ordinance specify how many trees per foot.
"They had no problems with the ordinance itself," Price said.
Because the ordinance is not under any particular deadline, it most likely will be examined again during the board's September meeting, and from there go to the county commissioners for approval. Depending on what commissioners wish to do, the ordinance could be approved by their second meeting in September.
"When it leaves the planning board and goes to the county commissioners, we want to makes sure it's acceptable to the public and the industry," Price said.
There are currently two solar farms operational in Wayne County, both owned by Strata Solar. The Mount Olive 2 solar farm is located northwest of Mount Olive on Bert Martin Road, and the AM Best solar farm is located between North William Street and U.S. 117 north of Fedelon Trail in Goldsboro. A third under construction, Moorings, is located on Piney Grove Road near LaGrange and is expected to be completed close to Labor Day. It, too, is owned by Strata Solar.
Each solar farm produces close to 6.5 MW per hour at peak operating hours.
A fourth, the Mount Olive 1 solar farm, is currently being developed by Birdseye Renewables and is slated to be built at Main Street and U.S. 117 in Mount Olive.