County commissioners press pause on new solar farms in Rowan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 8, 2019

SALISBURY – The Rowan County commissioners on Monday approved a six-month moratorium on applications to establish or expand ground-mounted solar energy systems in the county’s planning jurisdiction.

The moratorium will be in effect from now until April 7 to allow the Rowan County Planning Board ample time to study issues related to solar energy systems, consider development standards and formulate recommendations for text amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance.

The moratorium does not affect solar panels mounted on houses or residential property. It also does not affect projects that have already been submitted.

The moratorium was presented by Planning and Development Director Ed Muire, who said a public hearing was scheduled last month.

The county commissioners offered their questions and concerns as well as giving advice about what to do during the moratorium.

“It would be helpful to know some of the counties who have been successful in this,” Commissioner Judy Klusman said. “When you’ve talked to other counties, let us know.”

A number of residents also showed up to share their concerns, with several noting that a large solar farm is planned on more than 400 acres in western Rowan County.

“Is the energy benefit greater than the natural resource it replaces? Is it wise to cover hundreds, possibly thousands, of acres of productive farmland with massive solar plates?” Claudia Garner asked. “This area of the county is rich in farmland, close-knit communities, and homes that families can pass down for many generations.”

Garner also posed questions relating to environmental issues, construction, maintenance, decommissioning and the long-term effects of solar energy systems.

Ron Webb expressed concerns Monday as well, getting emotional near the end of his statement.

“I just think we need to get stricter guidelines. They are coming to our county and just walking all over us, and I love this county,” Webb said. “I want to see my grandkids grow up in a beautiful county like I have.”

Marian Rollins posed questions about climate change.

“How will it change when we deforest more of our land?” Rollins asked. “We can’t control all of that, but we can set parameters.”

The moratorium will be applied to any project in Rowan County’s planning jurisdiction that submits an application for a building or electrical permit, soil erosion and sedimentation control plan, conditional-use or zoning permit, to establish or expand a ground-mounted solar energy facility in excess of 6,000 square feet in area related to appropriate zoning district designation and process for consideration of applications.

It does not apply in the municipal limits or extraterritorial jurisdictions of cities and towns in the county.

The following is a schedule for actions during the moratorium:

October-November

• Committee B of the Planning Board will study information and material relative to zoning districts, process, setbacks and screening.

• Committee B and staff will prepare draft text amendments to the Rowan County Zoning Ordinance.

December

• Committee B will provide its draft text amendments to the Rowan County Planning Board for consideration.

January

• Planning staff will provide draft text amendments to the county commissioners for direction and guidance.

January-February

• The Planning Board will conduct a hearing on the draft text amendments and provide its recommendation to the commissioners.

March

• The Board of Commissioners will schedule a public hearing on the Planning Board’s recommended draft text amendments.

April 6

• The commissioners will hold a public hearing on proposed changes.

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