Etheridge censured over solar farm vote

Owen Etheridge.jpg

Owen Etheridge


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

CURRITUCK — The Currituck County Board of Commissioners last week censured Commissioner Owen Etheridge over his Jan. 22 vote to allow solar farms in the county.

The censure resolution states Etheridge’s action in voting on item PB17-14 at the Jan. 22 meeting, which lifted a solar farm moratorium and reinstated solar farms as a permitted use in the county, “is repudiated as not befitting a county commissioner bound to uphold the laws of the State of North Carolina and bound to follow the Code of Ethics.”

“It is apparent that on Jan. 22, 2019, when Commissioner J. Owen Etheridge voted on item PB17-14, it was reasonably likely that the outcome of the zoning text amendment to allow solar arrays as a use in Currituck County would have a direct, substantial, and readily identifiable financial impact on Commissioner J. Owen Etheridge,” the resolution states.

On Feb. 1, 2019, Sun Energy submitted to the county a plat for a proposed Shawboro East Ridge Solar project that included land co-owned by Etheridge,

The resolution notes that the plat contains an “original date” of Feb. 19, 2015, and a “latest revision date” of Jan. 31, 2019.

The resolution quotes Etheridge as saying at the Jan. 22 meeting in response to a query about disclosure on interest, “My family has had discussions with one of the solar companies about the possibility of a lease but nothing concrete.”

The text amendment passed 4-3 at the commissioners’ Jan. 22 meeting, with Etheridge joining Commissioners Kevin McCord, Selena Jarvis and Mike Payment in backing the amendment and Chairman Bob White and Commissioners Mary Etheridge and Paul Beaumont voting against it.

Etheridge said this week that the censure is based on speculation.

“It’s all ‘what if?’” Etheridge said. “I  have no signed contract. There was no contract and no money changed hands.”

During discussion at the meeting last week preceding the censure resolution, Beaumont took issue with Etheridge’s characterization of the resolution as speculative. Beaumont pointed out that Etheridge’s brother had spoken at the public hearing in favor of allowing solar arrays in the county.

“There’s a significant difference between ‘what if’ and plats that have the property identified. Your brother actually stated that it meant a lot of money to the family,” Beaumont said.

Sun Energy had talked about leasing land from his family in 2015 but had to shelve that plan when the county imposed a solar moratorium in 2017. When the moratorium was lifted earlier this year, the company submitted a pre-application that simply re-used the previous map, Etheridge said.

“It was a pre-application,” Etheridge said. “They haven’t submitted an application for anything.”

The text amendment is county-wide and does not apply specifically to property he owns, Etheridge said.

“It’s based on ‘what if?’ and speculation,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge said at the meeting last week that if he in the future had a contract on a project and it came before the board that he would not vote on the matter.