Currituck OK's permit for solar farm


Shown here is the proposed Ecoplexus solar farm in the Grandy area.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, June 24, 2018

CURRITUCK – After a lengthy court battle, a San Francisco-based alternative energy company has received the go-ahead from Currituck County to build a solar farm south of Grandy.

Ecoplexus last week received a permit from the Currituck Commission for the site, located at the former Goose Creek Golf Course north of Uncle Graham Road. The permit was granted after Ecoplexus won a ruling from the N.C. Court of Appeals several months ago allowing the project to proceed.

Ecoplexus Chief Commercial Officer and President Erik Stuebe, in an email Wednesday, said construction is expected to start at the end of this year, with completion expected to be by mid-2019.

"We look forward to working with the community and stakeholders and to being good neighbors," Stuebe said.

The permit allows for up to a 20-megawatt facility.

Commissioner Paul Beaumont on Monday evening led the commission's vote, which outlined a long list of conditions and specifications agreed to by the county and Ecoplexus.

They include a security fence around the site, a 300-foot setback from residentially zoned property lines, a 100-foot setback from all other property lines and fixtures to be limited to 15 feet high.

Conditions also include intense screening at residential property lines and screening at all other lines, with all screening to be in place prior to the start of construction.

Rules also call for unwanted vegetation and weeds being limited to no higher than two feet high and a ban on chemical usage to control vegetative growth throughout the project's lifespan.

Additionally, construction crews can only drive support posts into the ground between 7 a.m.-8 p.m Mondays through Fridays. Ecoplexus is also being asked to limit construction generally to those same time fames as much as possible.

Ecoplexus plans to drain several ponds and keep larger ponds along the site's perimeter, but assures the drainage will be lessened by a drainage system the company will install.

The commission's vote specified the site won’t endanger public health and safety, harm property values or burden public facilities.

The vote also specified that the site conforms to the county's land usage plans, in connection with development opportunities for cluster industries identified by the Currituck Economic Development Office, including alternative energy.

The previous legal division between Currituck and Ecoplexus can be traced to April 2016, when the previous commission, after a lengthy hearing, denied Ecoplexus a permit.

According to appellate court records, the golf course at the site had remained unused as a result of a foreclosure in 2012. Currituck Sunshine Farm was listed as owning the property, with Ecoplexus planned as the solar farm developer.

The previous county commission cited concerns about flooding of adjacent property and stormwater management issues and also concluded the site would be detrimental to property values and wouldn't be in harmony with the surrounding area.

Ecoplexus took the case to Currituck Superior Court. In March 2017, Judge Jerry Tillett handed down an order siding with Currituck and a group of residents opposed to the project.

However, Ecoplexus successfully obtained a reversal from the Court of Appeals.

In a ruling handed down in December, Appellate Judge John Tyson, joined by Appellate Judges Ann Calabria and Mark Davis, concluded Ecoplexus had made a case for the permit.

As a result, no more evidence could be presented for or against the project and the commission was required to issue Ecoplexus the permit.

Much questioning from the commission focused on concerns about additional water coming off the site.

Ecoplexus attorney Mike Fox of Greensboro told the commissioners County Engineer Eric Weatherly is going to be given a drainage analysis for a 10-year storm event. Fox said the document will show the peak stormwater discharge from the site won’t exceed existing peak discharges.

"When we're finished, there won't be anymore water coming off the site than is coming off there now," he said.

Commissioner Mike Payment pointed out a history of flooding issues. He wanted to know whether Ecoplexus will address that and make sure the situation doesn't get any worse.

Fox said, "Well, I'm not saying that we won't make it better, but we can guarantee we won't make it worse. And that's our legal obligation."

Fox said there a lot of things going on at the particular property not directly related to the former golf course. He said Ecoplexus is going to hold a bit more water on the site, meaning there's going to be a reduction of what's going off.

Kim Hamby, of the Timmons Group in Elizabeth City, is an engineer for Ecoplexus on the project.

Hamby told commissioners plans call for improvements to control drainage, “ ...the flooding, will be lessened by the system that we intend to put in.”

At least two speakers at the meeting last Monday remained critical of the project.

One of them, David Rice told commissioners that in 2016, there were two back-to-back hurricanes and that every residence bordering his had at least three feet of water in their backyards. Rice said two houses were completely surrounded by water. He argued that if trees, unmowed weeds and ponds were removed, there's nothing to hold the water back.

Another speaker, John McColley noted the site is on the flyway of migratory birds. McColley said he doesn't believe anyone has considered the effect the solar farm is going to have on their paths

"It boggles my mind that an 80-acre mirror is in harmony with a neighborhood. It just boggles my mind," he said.