Residents decry plans for solar farm at Lake Norman

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

— The Lincoln County Planning Board will consider Monday whether to recommend a permit to allow North Carolina’s biggest solar company to build a 36-acre solar farm on Webbs Road at Lake Norman.

At a meeting last week, neighbors told county commissioners that the proposal, which calls for 26,000 solar panels, is a bad fit in an area filled with hundreds of homes.

During a 61/2-hour public hearing that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. Dec. 3, residents and the experts they retained said an industrial operation like Strata Solar’s has no business in a slice of the lake area that has 800 homes, including the higher-end Sailview community.

“There are right places and wrong places...,” former city of Gastonia Planning Director Jack Kiser told commissioners at the James W. Warren Citizens Center. “You don’t need a planner like me to tell you it’s not in harmony with the area. It’s just plain old common sense.”

Commissioners are scheduled to decide whether to issue a permit for the solar farm at their meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16. They will first await a recommendation from the Lincoln County Planning Board, which is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Several hundred residents attended last week’s public hearing. All but one of the nearly 20 residents who spoke at the hearing said they opposed the solar farm. At least 60 others who signed up to the speak chose not to approach the microphone because their points had been made by other opponents.

Ted Campbell, who lives on Ashley Lane near Sailview, said none of the 20 to 25 solar farms he visited across the country and world for his company were in the middle of a residential area. He retired from Schneider Electric, a $40 billion global company that trades on the French stock exchange and in part provides and installs electrical equipment for solar farms, he said.

Opponents also came with real estate appraisers who cited declining property values near such farms elsewhere in the state. Strata Solar’s appraisers provided evidence contradicting those findings.

Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar is North Carolina’s largest solar developer with about 50 solar farms. The company wants to build its eastern Lincoln County solar farm on both 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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