Hearing focuses on solar project

Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2013


They came in matching royal blue ties as a show of solidarity and shared the same dumbfounded expressions as one person after another took jabs at their livelihoods.

SunEnergy1’s White Post project for Duke Energy Renewables came under scrutiny Tuesday night at a public hearing before the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

The SunEnergy1 employees sat in a back corner of a district courtroom in the Beaufort County Courthouse and waited for their chances to be heard.

The public hearing on the solar project was the first of its kind in North Carolina. It was the result of the formal complaint Bath resident Paul Woolard filed with the commission.

“Remember, whenever there is such a great positive there could be an even greater negative,” Woolard told the commission. “We have a right to protect our property and way of life.”

Woolard said SunEnergy1’s Stephen Sanders and Joel Sossamon made promises at the start of the project that eased his mind about his new neighbors. He said the company promised to install a privacy fence, plant shrubbery along the fence and repair the damage delivery trucks were doing to Woolard’s yard.

The company followed through on repairing the trucks-related damage, but trucks continued to trample the Woolard homestead and no one came to fix it again, according to Woolard’s testimony Tuesday night.

“As a coincidence, this morning, Tuesday, we had a problem of trucks driving on my property and destroying it,” Woolard said.

Woolard’s daughter, Stacy Davis, said she is concerned the company had not disclosed the dangers of living near a solar farm. The allied-health sciences major said she had learned the solar panels could affect children with autism or ADHD and people with pacemakers by causing electrohypersensitivity disorder.

Davis’ husband, Tim, said the solar project would affect the property values of the Woolard home, which has been in the family for more than 100 years.

“America was built by men like Paul Woolard that believe in getting up early in the morning and providing for their family,” Tim said.

He asked the commission to prove that common courtesy and family are still important.

The commission heard from Beaufort County Economic Development Director Bob Heuts and Catherine Glover, director of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce. Each praised the solar project and its economic impact on the county.

The commission also heard from Kenny Habul, CEO of SunEnergy1.

“We regret the situation, so I’m here to try and do what I can to assist,” he said. “We cannot make all the decisions. But Duke has always been helpful. They’ve always been very open … and very proactive.”

Bradley Fite, director of field operations for SunEnergy1, said the health concerns expressed at the hearing are simply fear of the unknown.

“Solar is a safe system,” he said.

Stephen Sanders, project manager for SunEnergy1, said Woolard had, on more than one occasion, visited the site and had lunch with his crew.

“I came from a small town, less than 600 people,” Sanders said. “Bath has to grow at some point. It can’t stay small forever. I just kind of feel that the accusations from Paul are kind of bogus.”

Brian Kennedy, vice president of solar projects for Duke Energy Renewables, said his legal counsel had instructed him the commission would not reward monetary damages to the Woolards. He also said he had met with the Woolards at their home to discuss the property damage.

“Subsequent to that meeting, I understand that Mr. Woolard met with Mr. Habul. He received a letter that Mr. Woolard was requesting $75,000,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy was the last to speak at the hearing. The commission then adjourned. It will make its decision in coming days.

“I’m assuming they’re gonna contact us in two weeks,” Woolard said after the hearing. “I kinda feel confident that, since this meeting, we can probably work some of this out. It’s just a shame it took this to do it.”