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Pasquotank imposes 60-day solar farm halt

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Pasquotank commissioners have adopted a 60-day moratorium on the county accepting any new solar farm applications. Officials say developers want to build a 3,500-acre solar farm in the county.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, June 8, 2018

New details are trickling out about a massive solar farm proposed in Pasquotank County even as county commissioners moved Monday to impose a two-month moratorium on solar farm applications.

For instance, the solar farm could be 3,500 acres, or more than 17 times larger than Pasquotank’s largest solar farms, and 1,500 acres larger than the 2,000-acre, $250 million solar farm in Currituck County southeast of Moyock.

Regardless of the project’s size, it won’t be moving forward for least the next two months.

County commissioners voted unanimously Monday for an ordinance imposing a 60-day moratorium on solar farms, an expected action after county staff recommended the moratorium last month. Pasquotank Planning Director Shelley Cox recommended the moratorium while the county considers new regulations on solar farms, including limiting their acreage or even restricting them from occupying certain farmland.

Though county officials have yet to identify the company considering the solar farm — other than to confirm it’s not SunEnergy1 or Invenergy, developers of Pasquotank’s current solar farms — the ordinance reveals its potential scope.

“It is anticipated the county may receive an application to construct a new, large-scale solar farm (being approximately 3,000 to 3,500 acres) in areas designated ‘Agricultural’ in the near future,” the ordinance states. “That large of a scale solar farm may be incompatible with the surrounding land uses and the Pasquotank County-Elizabeth City 2004 Advanced Core Land Use Plan.”

The land use plan referenced in the ordinance makes it the county’s goal to support agricultural and forestry-related purposes in agricultural zones. The massive solar farm reportedly would occupy land in the “desert” area of Pasquotank, in the northwest part of the county along the Perquimans County line.

In interviews following Monday’s meeting, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission Director Wayne Harris said the county has received multiple inquiries over the last few months about a large-scale solar farm. The developer would look to purchase the land in the desert, which is an attractive site for a solar farm because it’s next to a Dominion Power transmission line.

Harris also said that, while some commissioners may have been “taken aback” by the size of the project, he said the county is not looking to kill the project through the moratorium or solar ordinance changes.

Harris also said it’s commissioners’ decision whether the best use of the land is for farming or solar power generation. Though the farm would presumably bring many millions of dollars in investment, it would also likely take farmland out of agricultural use for decades.

Harris also said that a small part of the project might overlap with the Amazon Wind Farm US East, which also occupies area in the desert, but they remain separate projects. Wind turbines do not prevent farming like solar panels do.

A spokesperson for Dominion Power did not return a request for comment on this story.

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