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Planning Board committee talks new rules for solar farms

SALISBURY – While the county is in a six-month moratorium on new solar farms, a Rowan County Planning Board subcommittee met Wednesday to talk through new rules for the developments.

The moratorium specifically applies to the creation or expansion of ground-mounted solar energy systems in Rowan County’s planning jurisdiction, excluding cities and town. The moratorium is in effect until April 7 in order to allow the Rowan County Planning Board ample time to study issues related to solar energy systems and to also 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.

From now until the end of November, Committee B of the Planning Board plans to study information and material relative to zoning districts, process, setbacks, screening, and buffering.

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

The committee on Wednesday specifically talked about relevant excerpts from the Rowan zoning ordinance, future land use recommendations and excerpts from selected county ordinances, including Cabarrus, Currituck, Stanly and other surrounding counties in the area.

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Sheep graze under the solar panels
Friday, July 24, 2015, in Rockwell, N.C.

Planning Director Ed Muire on Wednesday said that every solar farm application that has come to Rowan County has been approved, with the exception of a 400-acre development that was ultimately withdrawn in October. It was to be located in western Rowan, along Neel, Sherills Ford and Old Bradshaw roads. It was withdrawn just before the moratorium started. Though, Rowan County commissioners had already planned to implement the moratorium.

In December 2019, Committee B is scheduled to provide its draft text amendments to the Rowan County Planning Board for consideration.

And in January 2020, the planning staff will provide draft text amendments to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for direction and guidance.

With a solar farm having a lasting life of 25-30 years, that has raised concerns about maintenance and decommissioning plans, Muire said during the meeting.

“If these things become abandoned, it will be an environmental nightmare,” said Committee B Chair Steve Poteat. “A lot of people think they are great and some are opposed.”

Muire asked the committee if there were any places solar farms shouldn’t go.

Poteat said that he “personally would like to see them away from everything.”

Muire suggested getting representatives from Duke Energy and from the solar industry to come and speak to the committee. Committee B Member David Miller along with other committee members agreed with Muire’s idea.

North Carolina counties possess the power to enact zoning and development regulations for the purpose of promoting health, safety, morals and the general welfare of citizens. The moratorium ordinance, in part, mentions complaints from property owners and residents adjoining solar energy system facilities during the construction phase related to dust and erosion, vehicular congestion and construction traffic and more.

“I think our ordinance standards are pretty adequate. We’ve had a lot of pressure and a lot of concerns,” said committee member Jonathan Chamberlain.

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