Developers are working to bring a solar farm to Pender County between U.S. 421 and Interstate 40.
A request to build a solar panel farm on thousands of acres in western Pender County hit a brick wall after county commissioners voted unanimously against it because of environmental concerns.
Coastal Pine Solar, LLC. on behalf of owner Evergreen Timber Co. NC, LLC made a request to build a solar farm in western Pender County. The parcel acreage is 6,587 acres. From that total, the project would have took up 2,360 acres if plans were finalized. It's the equivalent to 4,900 and 1,787 football fields, respectively.
The land was purchased from the Evergreen Timber Company. Properties are located west of Penderlea Highway and Horse Branch Road, south of Shiloh Road, east of U.S. 421 and N.C. 11, and north of Piney Woods Road. Selected areas are in the Burgaw, Columbia and Union townships.
Before an unanimous vote, Commissioner Jackie Newton said she respects the rights of property owners as long as it doesn't impact the environment or cause harm to neighbors.
"Clearcutting 2,500 acres of timber plus for this project is not going to be healthy for us with the runoff and flooding issues we have in that area," she said.
Newton also views the project as light industrial and not a business that would fit in a residential agricultural area.
Along with tree cutting, runoff and flooding were also matters brought up. Newton lives in the area and was taken aback how a environmental specialist didn't consider water table, which measures how much the ground is saturated with water.
"As a commissioner we have a problem trying to find land to build on because much of it is wetlands," she said. "I know for a fact if we have a sudden heavy rain, I can't get to Penderlea Highway from my house because of creek there in the curb."
Tom Terrell, an attorney from Fox Rothschild LLP, was one of several presenters who spoke on behalf of the applicant for project, which was estimated to cost about $300 million.
"This is a large project, Terrell said. "This sometimes is the elephant in the room, and people say, 'why is it so large, and the answer is Duke Energy."
According to Terrell, Duke Energy asked the legislature if it could control the pipeline of renewable being placed on its grid. The legislature granted Duke the right to do so with companies like Coastal Pine though a competitive proposal process.
According to the applicants, the solar farm, a 200 megawatt would produce energy through an agreement with Duke Energy. If it's operated, the farm will have enough power for 50,000 homes with panels collecting heat and energy from the sun.
To move forward, Terrell said 140 letters were sent to residents living within 500 feet of the property. During a past meeting with homeowners, about nine people showed, with four being supportive.
After representatives spoke, several residents in the area brought up concerns. One of them was Wesley Wooten, a farmer who owns 700 acres of land adjacent to the property. He thought it was disingenuous that people in a 10-mile radius were not notified and said its not going to bring jobs to the area.
"I read through through this letter and one of the things that jumped out at me continuously was the limited amount of traffic," he said. "That means that there's no commerce. No traffic equals no business equals no jobs."
Along with environmental concerns, decommissioning the solar farm if it's no longer functional, while referring to related hazards. Presenters said solar panels could last 25 years to full potential, but can be used longer if needed. Commissioner George Brown said it's not the county's "first rodeo" dealing with solar farm requests. He would like to see experts on the other side of the fence about the negatives.
"We don't know what's going to happen in 25, 30 years and who's going to be around to clean it up," Newton said. "Typically when you have fuel tanks stored in the ground and seepage, you have governments trying to clean it up on the backs of taxpayers, and that's not right."
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