Pasquotank officials have approved limits on how big and where future solar farms can be located in the county.
In a split 5-2 vote earlier this month, the Board of Commissioners voted to restrict future solar farm development to a maximum of 1,500 acres and to ban them from two areas of the county zoned for industrial development. The new solar rules also impose a minimum of a one-mile separation from any other solar farm.
Commissioners Barry Overman, Sean Lavin, Cecil Perry, Charles Jordan and chairman Jeff Dixon voted for the new regulations.
Commissioners Lloyd Griffin and Frankie Meads voted no, mainly because both believed that the 1,500-acre maximum for solar farms was too large.
The county had no limitations on solar farm size prior to implementing the 1,500-acre maximum.
Solar farms will no longer be allowed in two industrial zoning districts — I-1 and I-2, a move that was strongly supported by Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission Director Christian Lockamy.
Lockamy addressed the board at its July 13 meeting, telling commissioners that land zoned for industrial use around major highways, like future I-87, and close to railroad tracks should only be used for the development of jobs for local residents.
Lockamy said solar farms bring temporary jobs and “few” permanent jobs.
“That land on our bypass and in our industrial park has an intended purpose,” Lockamy said. “That purpose has and will always be quality job creation for the people living in our community and region. This is something that I have been in favor of since I have been here.”
Lockamy pointed to industrial expansion announcements from Telephonics and Hockmeyer in the county last year as well as a major industrial project in Edenton as recent success stories.
“Rarely does a year go by without an industrial company locating or expanding in our region,” Lockamy said. “There is not a lot of industrial zoned land and we have to understand that is our future. This is something we can’t give up to non-job creation entities like solar farms. It is not an anti-solar farm stance, it is a pro-job stance.’’
Lockamy said there is plenty of other land in the county that is suitable for solar farm development.
“Industrial zoned land, there is not a lot of it,” Lockamy said. “There is less than one-percent of industrial zoned land in the county. There is plenty of land in the county for solar.”
Griffin, who supported excluding solar farms from industrial zoned areas, said he supports solar farms in general but is against so-called “mega” solar farms, which he says have limited benefits for the county.
“The concern I have is what is the real benefit to Pasquotank County after the solar farm has been completed?” Griffin asked. “Does Pasquotank County receive any electrical benefit from the solar farm after it is built? My understanding is it’s on the Dominion (Power) grid and (the electricity it produces) is exported out of this area to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.”
Drainage issues on larger solar farms is also a concern, Griffin said.
“When you do 1,500 acres of solar there are a number of items that you have to consider in that acreage,” Griffin said. “One is the drainage because the area the solar farm will be going to is very drainage-sensitive and where the stormwater will run off. Water on grasslands drain different than tilled-up agricultural land. The long-term effect is you will also lose agricultural jobs in these areas.’’
Griffin said local earth-moving contractors benefit from the construction of solar farms. In the past, workers charged with building the project have stayed in local hotels but that is changing, Griffin said.
“In the last several solar farms that have been built, there were some houses that were rented,” Griffin said. “But a lot of the labor commuted in on buses or vans.’’