01/10/14 — Here comes the sun

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Here comes the sun

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 10, 2014 1:46 PM

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This solar farm is located on Fedelon Trail in Goldsboro. Solar farms are beginning to pop up across the county and in Duplin County. Wayne County commissioners will hold a public hearing next month on regulations governing such facilities, although some commissioners say they believe the farms should not be subjected to too many restrictions.

Wayne County commissioners have scheduled a Feb. 18 public hearing on proposed zoning of solar energy facilities despite concerns by several board members that the initial rules are too restrictive and would infringe on the rights of property owners.

The hearing will be held at 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery initially made a motion to table the proposal until it could be reworded. But he withdrew the motion after commissioners decided they want public input before proceeding further. Commissioner Steve Keen said that the county Planning Board had done exactly what it had been asked to do and that it is now the public's turn to be heard.

The few areas across the county that are zoned do not allow solar facilities. In unzoned areas, only a building and stormwater permits are required for construction.

The county Planning Department has recommended a stand-alone ordinance regulating the facilities in unzoned areas and amendments to the county ordinance that would allow them in certain zones.

While commissioners said that the Planning Board had done its job, they balked at some of the proposed restrictions, including fencing, landscaping and setback distances.

However, County Planner Connie Price said solar facilities in the county have fencing and that most exceeded the recommended setbacks.

One facility has been completed, and three others are in various stages of planning, Price said.

"What the proposed rules would do is two steps," he said. "One is regulate the appearance from the road of these facilities countywide no matter what (zoning) district it is in if it is in the county's jurisdiction.

"The other is that in areas where we have zoning in place already it adds it to the list of permitted uses in several of our zones. Currently in the areas where we have zoned industrial or residential, or agricultural these facilities are not allowed because they are not on the list of permitted uses."

Daughtery said he was concerned that the proposed setbacks would be too limiting. He also questioned why the county was trying to be so restrictive on a facility with no offensive odor or noise.

"I think it is more appearance than anything else," Price said.

Daughtery said he understood the concern, but questioned if the county could allow the option of some sort of screening or landscaping to shield the view from passers-by.

Keen and Commissioner Ray Mayo also questioned the need for the restrictions.

"They should not be regulated any more than any other business in the county," Mayo said.

If the county does over regulate it might force the solar facility companies to go elsewhere, he said.

Keen said he had a problem with the proposed 300-foot setback from the nearest structure. It is possible that a property owner might want to develop a solar facility closer than 300 feet to the property owner's home, he said.

Price said he would reword the proposal to ensure that would not happen.

As proposed, the facilities would be added as permitted uses in heavy industry, light industry and airport industry.

They would require special use permits in Residential-Agriculture 30 and 20, and Airport zones as well.

The planning has included discussions with the engineering staff at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Price said. The officials are in agreement with what is being proposed, he said.

The base staff suggested that the facilities be a special use in all areas covered by the Airspace Control Surface under the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone. Base officials also suggested wording to prohibit interference with aircraft operations by direct or indirect reflections that would interfere with a pilot's vision and/or traffic control operations or that produce electrical emissions that would interfere with aircraft communication systems or navigation equipment.