Proposed ordinance to be reviewed

Published 5:27 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A proposed ordinance regarding setbacks and buffers for energy projects like solar farms in Beaufort County will be reviewed for possible changes

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners reached that decision Monday after a public hearing on the proposed ordinance and discussion about the matter by the board. The board appointed at three-member committee of commissioners to revisit the proposed ordinance. The committee meets at 4 p.m. Aug. 19 at the county’s administration building, 121 W. Third St., Washington, to begin its review of the proposed ordinance.

During the public hearing, representatives from Duke Energy Renewable and SunEnergy1 questioned the need for such an ordinance, adding that if such an ordinance is needed that perhaps it be a softer one than proposed. They also said the proposed ordinance is the result of just one person complaining about a solar farm and that such an ordinance could hinder other efforts to bring similar environmentally friendly projects to the county, projects that create jobs and add to the county’s tax base.

Kenny Habul, president and CEO of SunEnergy1, said there are more than $200 million in solar-energy projects proposed for Beaufort County.

“To be honest with you, with all my experience in solar, what it tells me is there’s really no reason why it has to be here or why it can’t be in a county next door or anywhere else,” Habul told the commissioners.

“If you try to implement an ordinance that may make that (investment in local solar farms) more difficult, I’d like to ask you what industries do you have in this county that are prepared to invest $200 million in the next 12 months and create hundreds of jobs,” Habul said. “I certainly don’t have an issue with the 100-foot setback, particularly. I think it needs to be qualified a little more. … Solar systems generally, in terms of what we build, are 30 acres and up. Sometimes on 30 acres, 80 acres of 150 acres, a 100 foot is not a big deal. It’s a lot more of a big deal if you build on five acres. I’d like to see that (distinction) there.”

Habul suggested the county consider forbidding solar farms and similar energy projects in or near residential areas. He said solar farms tend to be located in rural areas.

The proposed ordinance requires a 75-foot setback from the right-of-way line on a road, a 50-foot setback from a property boundary line and 100-foot setback from a residence or business. It also includes a requirement for a vegetative buffer around an energy project, such as a solar farm, that reaches 6 feet in height within five years of the buffer being planted.

If adopted, the proposed ordinance would not apply to existing solar farms or other energy projects.

The impetus for forming the committee surfaced earlier this year when Paul Woolard, who lives next to the solar-farm project at White Post, complained to commissioners about the project’s effects on his property.

After hearing Woolard’s complaints and discussing the matter, the board, with a unanimous vote, directed county staff to request the White Post solar-farm developers — SunEnergy 1 and Duke Energy Renewables — to find a new entrance to the project to prevent further damage to Woolard’s property.

At the meeting where Woolard aired his concerns, Brinn said he would like to have a county ordinance that would “guarantee that no property owner would every have to step out of their house and look at that.” Brinn called for a setback of at least 100 feet from the right of way.

“I’d like to have more, but I will take the 100 feet,” he said then.

At Monday’s meeting, Habul told the board, “To my knowledge, and correct me if I’m wrong, what’s brought this about is one person complaining. Yet, there’s over a hundred people who spoke out in support, many of those at the public hearing that the N.C. Utilities Commission held,”

That hearing was held in response to Woolard’s complaint.

Commissioner Gary Brinn said he and some other commissioners have some concerns about the proposed ordinance. Brinn said the committee plans to have a revised ordinance to discuss at the commissioners’ September meeting.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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