Neighbors have mixed views on solar farm plan

Apr. 07, 2013 @ 07:39 PM

For Jayme Williams, solar farms, for all their quiet efficiency, are not compatible with the rural life.

Williams, a real estate broker, opposes the construction of two 30-acre solar farms on adjoining sites on Alamance Church Road near her home. She testified during a recent Guilford County Board of Commissioners hearing against a special use permit for the two proposed 5-megawatt facilities. Commissioners approved the permits.
“The farms would dominate the neighborhood and would be a negative impact on property values,” she said. “They would not be in harmony with the neighborhood.”
Williams challenged the tree screening owners promised and the impact the solar farms would have on property values.
The trees that owners promised to plant around the sites would not be tall enough to hide 12-foot high panels, she said.
“And you need evergreens to hide them year round,” she said. 
Owners later offered to plant taller trees with a greater mix of evergreens.
Williams also wanted the owners to abandon the Alamance Church Road sites because the road is a state-designated “scenic byway,” the only one in Guilford County.
For Williams, a solar farm is an “intense” land use. Each of the farms is larger than any neighboring property, she said. Thirty acres is enough room for 110 rows of arrays.
“These people live in the country because they want the rural life,” said attorney Brian Walker, who led the opponents’ case. “Solar farms bring the urban life there. We need a track record on how this would affect the community, not assurances.”
Sam Sims, another neighbor, worried about losing farmland.
“We may not get to see the end of the lease. Our grandchildren will,” Sims said.
Not all residents are worried over the prospect of a nearby solar farm. Victoria Troxler said she plans to stay in her house beside the 38-acre tract she will lease to Sunlight Partners Inc.
“This is a clean operation and handles the energy we need,” she said.
Some proponents see leasing land for solar farms as a way to keep farmland in their families. Solar farms don’t raise property values as much as some other uses, proponents say, but they don’t harm values either. Some leases allow “decommissioning” salvage for property owners for any equipment solar firms leave behind when the lease ends.
Another neighbor, Tina Harris, said she plans to clear land near one site for a garden.
“I’m comfortable about living there,” she said. “It is good for the public at large.”
Retiree Donna Carr lives next to the Troxler site.
“A solar farm does not bother me. I’m all for it,” Carr said. “It won’t hurt anything.”
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Solar facts

Growth: North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for solar energy production, and the state is projected by the Solar Energy Industries Association to move up to fourth place this year.

Triad:  Davidson County has the largest solar array in the state at 17 megawatts. The $137 million facility opened in 2011. The Linwood solar farm covers 200 acres and is composed of more than 63,000 photovoltaic solar panels. It is expected to generate an estimated 28 million kilowatt-hours annually — enough energy to power 2,600 homes a year. At least five farms have been planned for the eastern Guilford County/Burlington area.

Solar production: The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requires public utilities to have the equivalent of 3 percent of their retail sales come from renewable energy and energy-efficient sources by 2012. That jumps to 6 percent in 2015, 10 percent in 2017 and 12.5 percent in 2021.

Permits: In Guilford County, solar farms require special use permits to regulate the size of solar collectors and the type of landscaping buffers.