Public hearing planned on Lake Norman solar farm

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comNovember 29, 2013 

  • Solar farm hearing The public hearing on Strata Solar’s request for a permit to operate a 36-acre solar farm in eastern Lincoln County at Lake Norman is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday in the James W. Warren Citizens Center auditorium, 115 W. Main St., Lincolnton.

Several hundred residents plan to pack a public hearing Monday to voice their objections to a proposed 36-acre solar farm near affluent subdivisions in eastern Lincoln County at Lake Norman.

Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar’s solar power generation facility would include 26,000 240-watt-plus solar panels, according to the company’s permit application.

The farm would be on the north and south sides of Webbs Road at Burton Lane, on property owned by longtime local residents Gary and Virginia Dellinger, Timothy Dellinger and Dellinger Septic Tank Co.

Homes worth a total of $400 million surround the site, opponent George Arena, a former Lincoln County commissioner, has said.

Soybeans are now grown on the 36-acre site where Strata Solar hopes to build the farm.

Webbs Road leads to pricey Sailview, the lake community where Arena lives, and to Governor’s Island, one of the lake’s most exclusive developments.

Arena said motorists would have to put up with chain link fence and barbed wire while driving along the farm’s perimeter on Webbs Road.

Webbs Road drivers now also pass a county trash and recycling center, a concrete plant and property where Porta-Jons are stored. All are visible from the road. Trees and a berm block Sailview residents’ view of Webbs Road.

Because agricultural uses don’t need county permission, the property owners could build a hog or chicken farm if they wanted, Lincoln County Zoning Administrator Randy Hawkins has said.

Local real estate broker Nadine Deason has said she expects property values in and around Sailview to drop more than 20 percent if the solar farm is built. One potential buyer has already pulled out of the community because of the farm, she said, and others crossed it off their lists.

“Everybody loves alternatives to fossil fuel,” Deason told the Observer, “but in the right setting – not in front of your front door.”

Strata Solar says its farms don’t hurt surrounding property values.

In its application, the company says the farm “won’t generate significant noise or traffic. It will be buffered from roads and neighboring properties.”

The company says its plan meets the county’s setback and buffer requirements.

“The facility won’t produce any emissions or contain hazardous materials,” the application adds. “The passive nature of this use will fit in with this primarily residential area.”

Strata Solar is North Carolina’s largest solar developer. Spokesman Blair Schooff said tweaks to site plans are typical of any large development, suggesting it’s likely in Lincoln County, too.

“We’ve had a small minority of our over 50 projects now that have encountered any sort of public resistance,” he said. “For the most part, our success rate is terribly high.”

More often, Schooff said, farmers call Strata asking to be part of solar projects.

Strata Solar completed one farm in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, in December 2012.

Another of its projects, Haynes Solar Farm, is on Tripple H Lane, just west of Maiden Highway near Lincolnton. Lincoln County commissioners approved that project in February.

Local boards in Shelby, Robeson County and Laurinburg have denied permits for solar farms this year.

A Duke Energy Renewables project in Beaufort County was the target of one of two challenges of solar farms that led to unusual hearings this year before the N.C. Utilities Commission, which permits larger farms. Permits were granted in both cases.

Opponents to solar farms also say they’re concerned about glare from the panels and the farms’ electromagnetic field. Experts say the radiation is no higher than that of residential power lines. More often, critics complain the solar farms’ 8-foot-high panels will be eyesores that lower property values.

Neighboring Catawba County, which hosts eight solar farms, adopted a solar ordinance in September; Lincoln County has no such ordinance. The Catawba County ordinance requires buffer zones distancing the farms from surrounding properties.

“Basically it’s a new type of thing, so people are a little skeptical,” Catawba senior planner Susan Ballbach said. “Once they hear how they will operate, the amount of traffic and that sort of thing –they're more at ease.”

Monday’s hearing in Lincolnton is a continuation of a hearing the county held Sept. 9 and Nov. 4.

Staff Writer Bruce Henderson contributed.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak

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