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Proposed Franklin County solar ordinance delayed following public feedback

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ROCKY MOUNT — Efforts by the Franklin County Planning Commission to create a new solar farm ordinance for the county was delayed this week. A vote on the proposal was postponed following a public hearing in which several speakers voiced their concerns.

Many of the speakers at the Jan. 11 public hearing said the proposed solar farm ordinance was too restrictive, while others questioned if more restrictions were needed. Nearly a dozen local residents as well as representatives from multiple organizations spoke on the issue.

Franklin County resident Bonnie Law said work should be done to assure the solar panels will be removed once they are no longer generating power. She also asked that research be done into any company applying to construct a solar farm to assure they will be a benefit for the county.

“You’ve got a lot of due diligence here to do and its going to be on you,” Law said.

Following some comments from speakers questioning if the solar farm ordinance addresses concerns such as environmental damage and decommissioning, Blue Ridge District representative C.W. Doss assured the audience that those concerns were addressed in the proposed ordinance.

“We’ve worked extensively on this,” Doss said. “Most all of the points that were made were covered.”

The ordinance requires applicants for a solar farm to submit an environmental impact report for the project as well as plan for decommissioning the facility. The ordinance also requires financial assurance in some form to cover the cost of removal of solar panels once operation ends.

A majority of the speakers at the Jan. 11 meeting said the proposed ordinance went too far. Speakers questioned the 60 acre limit for a solar farms in areas zoned A1 as well as a cumulative limit of 1,500 acres in the entire county. They also questioned a proposed 300 ft. setback and a buffer of 5 miles between solar projects.

Becky Campbell with First Solar and Skyler Zunk with the Land of Liberty Coalition both attended the meeting to question the proposed ban of cadmium telluride solar panels in the county. Members of the planning commission decided against allowing the solar panel types due to some reports of damage to the environment.

Zunk said the banning of cadmium telluride would prohibit the predominate American made solar panel from being used for solar projects in Franklin County. He also said other aspects of the ordinance would make it even more restrictive for most county residents.

“There are so many problems with this ordinance,” Zunk said. “It’s going to make solar unworkable in Franklin County.”

Following the public hearing, the planning commission debated whether to postpone a vote or move the ordinance forward to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors. If approved by supervisors, the new solar ordinance would go into effect in the county.

Union Hall representative Deborah Crawford agreed with several speakers that the solar ordinance as it is currently proposed is too restrictive. “I think we’ve pretty much made an ordinance where we are not going to have any solar farms,” she said.

Blackwater District representative David Pendleton questioned if the planning commission should consider an ordinance that is less strict for proposed solar farms. He said restrictions should be tight now because it may be more difficult to increase restrictions later on.

Despite some objections from Pendleton, Crawford made the motion to delay a vote on the solar ordinance to February to allow planning commission members more time to consider some of the concerns expressed a the public hearing.

The planning commission voted 5-2 to delay the vote with Pendleton and Snow Creek District representative Sherrie Mitchell both voting against.

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