02/24/14 — Residents seeking less strict solar rules

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Residents seeking less strict solar rules

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 24, 2014 1:46 PM

Five speakers at Tuesday's public hearing on proposed zoning rules for solar facilities echoed earlier comments by some Wayne County commissioners that the regulations are too restrictive.

One speaker, former commissioner Andy Anderson, did not address the issue of the rules, suggesting instead that the county should consider utilizing solar power.

Commissioners did not act on the regulations, but sent them back to the Wayne County Planning Board for reconsideration.

For the speakers, the most onerous aspect of the rules involved the setback requirements -- particularly a 300-foot distance from homes, schools and churches.

The 100-foot setback from a public road and a 50-foot setback from a side property line did not prompt as much discussion.

Unlike some commissioners, the speakers were not concerned about required fencing. The facilities have fences and locked gates to protect the valuable equipment inside, they said.

Requirements of landscaping along public roads did not appear to be an issue either.

Wayne County Board of Education member Arnold Flowers said a solar facility is being built near his home on Arrington Bridge Road.

The 300-foot setback would require a large tract of land to qualify or even meet the ordinance, he said.

"It is kind of like cell phone towers," he said. "No one really wants to look at one, unless you don't have cell phone coverage. I would rather look at it than not have coverage."

The facilities are not particularly bad looking, he said.

"If we make the ordinance so restrictive where you just don't have any in Wayne County, at what point are we restricting that industry altogether?" he said. "I don't think that is a good idea."

Donna Mills of the Grantham community said she is currently involved with a group that is building a solar facility in her area. Goldsboro City Councilman Gene Aycock said his mother is part of that same group.

"Your restrictions are way out of line," Mrs. Mills said. "I feel like if you take 100 acres, you put 300-foot setbacks, then you are cutting that 100 acres down to 50.73 acres. You don't realize that is half the acres that we can actually use to put renewable energy back online to help cut our power bills, we hope."

Also, the facilities are putting agricultural land into commercial use that will benefit the county tax base, she said.

Aycock said his relatives who live near the site have no problem with 50- to 75-foot setbacks.

"Solar energy is a passive energy," he said. "You don't get any odors. You don't get any noise. You don't get any disturbance except the sight of a solar farm."

As such, Aycock said he agreed with the need for roadside landscaping and probably along areas adjacent to residences.

Aycock also questioned wording in the ordinance that had been recommended by Seymour Johnson Air Force Base staff.

The staff suggested language to prohibit interference with aircraft operations by direct or indirect reflections, which 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.

Aycock said such reflections also could be caused by large bodies of water and the roofs of poultry houses.

Wayne County native Rex Thompson, who now lives in Fayetteville, Ark., said he and his sister own a farm on N.C. 55. He said he opposes the ordinance.

Thompson said he and his sister wanted the farm to remain in the family, but that the two generations past him do not have strong ties to the land.

Signing a long-term lease for the land to be used as a solar facility would at least keep the land in the family, he said.

The county's current ordinances do not address solar facilities and the few areas across the county that are zoned do not allow them. In non-zoned areas, only building and storm water permits are required for construction of solar facilities.

The Planning Board has recommended a stand-alone ordinance regulating solar facilities in unsound areas that are outside municipal jurisdiction.

The proposal also includes amendments to county ordinances that would allow the facilities as permitted uses in heavy, light and airport industry zones.

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