Chowan to mull solar project
By Miles Layton
Monday, February 18, 2019
EDENTON — Chowan County commissioners will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed 5-megawatt solar farm in the northern end of the county.
Ryland Road Solar, a SunEnergy1 company, has applied for a conditional use permit to develop the solar farm at 3448 Virginia Road, north of the Ryland Road intersection in Tyner. Ryland Road Solar is proposing to build the solar farm on 65 acres of an approximately 106-acre tract.
The Chowan Planning Commission recommended approval of Ryland Road Solar’s request for the conditional use permit in January.
According to minutes of the commission’s meeting, Linda Nwadike, a SunEnergy1 representative, said the company has an offer to buy the 106-acre tract, which is zoned for agricultural use, from Goodwin Farms.
Nwadike said the proposed project’s solar panels would be well below the 15-foot maximum height requirement in the county ordinance. She noted the project would use existing vegetation for buffering and meet setback requirements in the county’s zoning ordinance. Ryland Road Solar also would pay a bond prior to obtaining a building permit, she said.
Kenny Goodwin, who owns the land Ryland Road Solar is seeking for the project, told planning commission members he had been in negotiations with SunEnergy for four years. He said in his dealings with the company, it has always followed through on what it says it will do.
Barry Bridgeman told the planning commission he attends a church that abuts the proposed project. He asked if the solar farm’s panels could be kept behind the church and not be built up to the road beside the church.
Responding to Bridgeman’s concern, Nwadike said the project’s site plan is preliminary and that solar panels may not be built where they currently planned. Nwadike said panels were proposed near the church in case there was no other place available on the property.
Deborah Spence, of Ryland Road, told the planning commission that a ditch drains from the property where the solar farm is proposed onto her property. She said she’s concerned that any pollution from the solar farm would end up in her horse pasture.
Spence also expressed concern that North Carolina lacks a closure plan for solar farm materials. She claimed those materials contain hazardous substances that are released when solar farm facilities wear out or are damaged.
Spence asked where damaged solar panels would be disposed of and whether any of them would end up in local landfills. She also asked whether the state requires landowners to be advised of their potential liability should damaged solar panels or other materials she claimed might be hazardous have to be removed. Spence also wanted to know if a property became polluted from a solar farm, who would be responsible for the cleanup.
Steve Kalland, with NC Clean Energy Center, told the planning commission that no solar panels in use in the United States today are considered toxic. He said solar panels are manufactured from many of the same materials that go into cars and electronics. He said solar panels are recyclable and if problems arise with one, it can be safely disposed of in a landfill.
Kalland said solar panels are tested through a process approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under that process, solar panels are ground up and put in an acid bath to simulate the effects of spending 30 years in a landfill. Anything that leaches from the panels during the test is then examined for toxicity and potential hazards.
Kalland also outlined the extensive state permitting process for any solar farm project. After a solar farm site is surveyed, engineers have to draft a set of plans for the actual solar facility, he said. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Energy, Mineral and Land Resources division then has to review and approve the plans for erosion and sediment control. The N.C. Division of Water Quality also has to review the plans to ensure a solar facility doesn’t negatively contribute to stormwater runoff.
Jeff McDermott, senior environmental specialist with SunEnergy1, told the planning commission that there is actually less sediment in the runoff from a solar farm than from a traditional farm.
He said a solar farm site is stripped prior to construction. However, the site is stabilized by putting grass down immediately after construction begins. He said the primary concern is soil loss into the water supply. McDermott said that on flat land there is not much erosion or flow of sedimentation downstream.
Rich Kirkland, a certified general land appraiser, presented the planning commission an impact analysis of the solar project. Kirkland said he has studied about 500 solar farms, mostly in North Carolina, over the past 10 years and in his opinion, the proposed Ryland Road solar farm would be in harmony with neighboring properties and not cause adjoining land values to decrease.
Comparing the proposed solar farm to one in Goldsboro, he said the latter project had not affected home sales in a Goldsboro subdivision. He said homes in the subdivision had sold for the same price whether they were located next to the solar farm or not. He said he also had spoken with homeowners who had not mentioned any specific issues with the solar farm.
Kirkland cited eastern North Carolina’s abundance of flat land as a chief reason so many solar farm developers are looking to build solar farms in the region. Flat land makes it easier to site solar panels.
Monday's Chowan Board of Commissioners’ meeting, which includes a public hearing on Ryland Road Solar’s request for a conditional use permit, starts at 6 p.m. at the Chowan County Public Safety Center.