County halts new solar farm construction for a year

Published 7:23 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Beaufort County commissioners have put a halt to solar facility development in the county.

At Monday night’s regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners, the board voted 4-3 in favor of imposing a one-year moratorium, effective immediately, after the second of two public hearings.

Commissioners Ed Booth, Jerry Langley and Hood Richardson voted in opposition.

“They’re working on revising the current ordinance. That’s part of the reason to put the moratorium in place — to give them time to do that,” said Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood.

The board formed a committee earlier this year to look into whether the county’s existing solar farm ordinance needed revision in response to public opposition to a proposed project in Terra Ceia. Concerns about the proposed 600-acre Wilkinson Solar project have ranged from its proximity to Terra Ceia Christian School and its longterm effects on what has previously been fertile farmland, to the economic impact of a possible closure of TCS and removing 600 acres of farmland out of the ag business economy to be replaced by property taxes.

The Wilkinson Solar project will not be affected by the moratorium, according to Alligood.

“The county attorney’s opinion was that they were already in play, and the moratorium does not affect them,” Alligood said.

Commissioners Booth, Gary Brinn and Ron Buzzeo were assigned to the committee, not only study existing setback restrictions from structures and property lines, but to meet with local representation on the state level to negotiate how counties are allowed to tax solar farms.

Per state statute, counties are only allowed to tax 20 percent of the appraised value of solar farm facilities.

“A community hosting solar energy facilities should receive the full benefit of such development within its boundaries particularly since solar energy facilities reduce open space and useable farmland and generate visual and other impact unwelcome to property owners adjacent to solar energy facilities,” states a resolution approved by the board Monday night.

The resolution, proposed by Buzzeo, requests the repeal of the statute, as the county is losing out on $545,297 in property taxes each year — a number that will exceed $1 million once the Wilkinson Solar facility is operational.

Not counting the Wilkinson Solar project, Beaufort County currently has eight solar farms, constructed on 479.46 acres of land.