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County to mull new solar limits

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Pasquotank County commissioners will consider new restrictions on solar facilities today. Shown is SunEnergy1's 20-megawatt solar facility on U.S. Highway 17 South and Foreman Bundy Road.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pasquotank County commissioners will consider new restrictions on solar farms when they meet today.

Commissioners will hold a work session at 3 p.m. in the W.C. Witherspoon Library to review a first draft of an amended solar facility ordinance. 

Commissioners’ consideration of the amendment comes in the wake of two commissioners’ recent call for a slowdown in solar farm development. It also follows Currituck County commissioners’ recent decision to ban future solar farm development because of citizen complaints.

Pasquotank Planning Director Shelley Cox said the amendment is a response to citizen concerns, but her intent in proposing new standards isn’t to discourage future solar farm development in the county.

Some of the ordinance’s proposed changes include:

* Structures and fencing at solar facilities would have to have a 100-foot front setback and 50-foot side and rear setbacks; if applicable, the solar facility must also be at least 100 feet from a wetland. Previously, solar farms only had to have landscape screening if they were within 150 feet of a public street right of way.

* Solar farm fencing must be screened with a landscape buffer, including “mature vegetation.”

* Solar farms must submit and follow an “engineered drainage plan” meeting requirements of the Pasquotank stormwater design manual.

* Solar farms must provide plans for their decommissioning that include cost estimates and site restoration, and must provide “a bond or irrevocable letter of credit equal to 1.25 times the estimated decommissioning cost.”

The current ordinance requires a letter of credit or bond for decommissioning, but it’s based on estimated equipment removal costs compared to salvage value. By removing salvage value as a consideration, Cox said the county will ensure consistency among solar companies.

Asked about the county’s proposed amendment, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade and lobbying group for solar energy, called the new bond requirements excessive.

“A bond requirement is a sign the solar industry is not welcome in Pasquotank County,” SEIA Vice President of State Affairs Sean Gallagher said. “The Pasquotank County ordinance, as proposed, creates an undue burden on developers to post a decommissioning bond, which is unnecessary given the high value of the equipment involved.”

Cox said the proposed solar facility amendment is being presented to commissioners today only for discussion, not for action.

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