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County commissioners approve one, delay another solar project in Rowan

County Commissioners on Monday approved a solar farm in rural Rowan and pressed pause on another near the airport after concerns arose about glare affecting incoming pilots.

The approved solar farm is proposed for the 2300 block of Dunn’s Mountain Road. The solar array will be five megawatts and sit on 59 acres adjacent to a rock quarry. The solar farm that caused concern among commissioners is proposed for a rectangular tract of land adjacent to Interstate 85 and between Peeler and Webb roads. The solar farm, proposed by Seven Island Environmental Solutions, would sit within the flight path of pilots approaching the Rowan County Airport.

Commissioners unanimously approved the Dunn’s Mountain Road request and unanimously voted to delay consideration of the solar farm near the Rowan County Airport.

Glare largely wasn’t an issue for the Dunn’s Mountain Road solar farm. Early morning visitors to Dunn’s Mountain Park might see some glare from the nearby solar farm, according to a study submitted to county staff. However, the park’s normal operating hours start after the potential for glare.

No one spoke in opposition to the Dunn’s Mountain Road proposal. Commissioner Judy Klusman praised the request from 02 Energies, which operates a solar farm in Rockwell, for incorporating sheep to maintain vegetation growth.

Local pilot Tom Greene, who has served on the Rowan County Airport Advisory Board, spoke against the Seven Island Environmental Solutions proposal. Arguing against a point made by developers, Greene said pilots can’t simply put on sunglasses or pull a visor down when experiencing glare.

“It’s not just a matter of closing your eyes or putting a visor down; It’s five, 10, 15 seconds of ‘have you still got it? Have you still got the runway in sight?'”

Greene said a pilot would abort a landing if the pilot or a copilot can’t spot the runway.

Some glare already exists from a solar farm to the north of the airport, Greene said.

Greene said he’d prefer to see more study about whether the solar panels would cause significant glare for incoming pilots. The study submitted to county staff didn’t find significant issues within 2 miles. The study found a window of about 10 seconds just outside of 2 miles where glare could be an issue.

Rowan County Planning Director Ed Muire didn’t speak against the proposal, but asked developers a number of specific questions about the potential for glare. Muire specifically focused on a variation data included in the study. Muire said data points past 2 miles from the airport shift about 738 feet.

“I just wondered why that is,” Muire said.

The study submitted to county staff indicated glare would be located to the pilot’s right when approaching from the south. Because of the shifted data points, Muire speculated whether the glare would actually be directly in front of pilots upon approach.

Rowan County commissioners view the airport as a potential site for significant economic development — a point noted during Monday’s meeting by county commissioners Chairman Greg Edds.

“A few things are really important to this community and one of them is economic development,” Edds said. “We appreciate what you are trying to do in our community and we want you here.”

Edds encouraged the developers to meet with Rowan County Airport Director Thad Howell and Greene to work through glare issues.

He promised the company county officials would hold a “big ribbon cutting” once the project was approved and built.

Commissioner Mike Caskey initially proposed commissioners table consideration of the solar farm. His idea was favored by all commissioners, who voted to delay consideration to the first regularly scheduled meeting in April.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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