Saturday, July 20, 2024

Pender County approves solar farm for more than 1,000-acres of rural agricultural land

The modified request for the special use permit allows more than 1,000-acres to be used as a solar farm in Pender County (Port City Daily/Courtesy Pender County)
The modified request for the special use permit allows more than 1,000-acres to be used as a solar farm in Pender County (Port City Daily/Courtesy Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — More than 1,000-acres of rural agricultural land in Pender County will now become a solar farm after the Pender County Board of Commissioners approved a request from Crooked Run Solar LLC to do just that.

The board originally approved the special use permit in April of 2017 for approximately 481-acres of land for the construction of an “other electric power generator,” better known as a solar farm.

On Monday the group requested the county approve a revision to the special use permit to include an additional six tracts of land, approximately 565-acres more, bringing the total acreage to 1,046.

The move comes just two months after the county approved its Pender 2.0 Comprehensive Land Use Plan which outlined the future land uses for different zoning districts.

Related: Pender County aims to balance growth along US-17 while preserving its rural roots

While the comprehensive plan is not a regulatory document, it is used to guide the decisions of the county when it comes to planning and land use. According to the plan, desired uses for the rural agriculture districts include single-family dwellings, manufactured homes, and parks and open spaces.

Inappropriate uses, according to the plan include attached single-family dwellings, multi-family residential units, most commercial, office and institutional development, and industrial development.

According to Pender County’s Unified Development Ordinance, solar farms and other electric power generation uses are allowed in the rural agricultural districts if a special use permit is granted.

Local impacts

But the decision was not only up to the county, part of the land was in the jurisdiction of the Town of Watha.

Documents from Pender County state, “Approximately 35-acres of the subject property falls within Watha’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Project manager Shane Shields stated via email that the Town of Watha indicated they would not require any additional requirements for the project. Planning Staff spoke with a Watha building inspector who requested that the Town of Watha would relinquish their jurisdiction over the portion of this project located within the town.

“Shane Shields stated via email that after speaking with the mayor of Watha, the sentiment was confirmed that the portion of the project that was within the Town of Watha would be reviewed by Pender County Planning Staff. Therefore, all building permits after final zoning will be obtained through Pender County,” the documents concluded.

The energy collected by the company will be sold to Duke Energy, which which will resell it to its customers. While in theory this will reduce Duke’s overall need for other resources across the grid, including non-renewable ones, the company did not purchase the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from the solar farm; therefore, the energy from the solar farm does not county toward North Carolina’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which under a 2007 state law requires the state’s three investor-owned utilities (Duke, Progress, and Dominion) to supply 12.5% of all retail electricity sales within the state from eligible renewable energy resources by 2021.

“There will be no daily staff used to operate the solar farm. Employees will visit the site once a week or even less frequently for routine maintenance checks of the arrays and the property. The solar farm will operate unmanned and will be operational when the sun is available. According to the applicant’s narrative, the slight hum of electrical transformers, invertors, and the substation delivering solar power to the power grid is the only sound emitted during daylight hours,” according to the permit request.


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