In the wake of a zoning amendment in September permitting solar farms as a special use in Sampson County, the Planning and Zoning Board has approved the establishment of two such solar operations.
Two special use requests were made during a recent meeting of the Sampson County Planning and Zoning Board by Kent Trowbridge of Solbridge Energy, who previously spoke to the Board of Commissioners in September. Both are for solar farms in RA-Residential Agriculture districts, one will be located along South McCullen Road and the other on Governor Moore Road.
The South McCullen Road solar farm was an application made by Leon and Betty Warren, to be located on approximately 28.25 acres. The site plan provided proposed a security fence and a 15 foot by 8 foot tall evergreeen buffer surrounding the site. The Governor Moore Road special use permit, applied for Ray and Cynthia Gainey, is for a solar farming operation to be located on approximately 14.9 acres. No specific buffer proposals were presented for the Gainey operation.
The Board of Commissioners amended the county’s zoning ordinance in September, at Trowbridge’s request, to include solar farms as a special use in the residential agriculture and commercial districts. Clinton-Sampson planning director Mary Rose said, as a special use, any request to establish a solar farm would require a site-specific plan and the board would be able to review the proposal and place any additional conditions on it.
For both requests, all adjacent property owners were notified and no one spoke in opposition. The planning board agreed that both met the four standards of safety required for the special use permit to be granted, and subsequently approved them unanimously.
Trowbridge is the founder and managing partner of Solbridge Energy, a solar energy developer with the goal of providing solar electricity to utilities, municipalities and select commercial enterprises under long-term power purchase agreements. Solbridge is focused mainly on the development of 250 kilowatt to 10 megawatt facilities in the eastern United States.
Trowbridge said Solbridge’s goal is to see two of those in Sampson — the first, Gainey Solar LLC will construct a 2 megawatt alternating current ground mount solar installation. The South McCullen Road operation will follow.
“One megawatt takes about 5 acres of land, and one megawatt of energy represents about 100 households,” Trowbridge has said. “Right now, Solbridge has ground leases in place with two different Sampson County residents. The first one that we’re looking at is Gainey Solar on Governor Moore Road.”
Trowbridge said that once the solar panels are set up, the sunlight hits the panel as direct current, activating electrons that create electricity. It runs through wires to an inverter, where it is flipped from direct current to alternating current.
“It has to do that because the utilities move their power around in alternating current,” Trowbridge said. “Solbridge will be those ground mounts. We’ll be selling all the electricity into the grid. We’ll be entering into long-term power purchase agreements with Progress Energy. All the energy that is created by the solar farm will be fed directly into the grid.”
Solbridge will enter into long-term fixed lease with landowners, who have a fully-leased piece of property for the next 15 years — “we want to go out as far as possible,” he has said.
At the end of the term, the solar installation can be disassembled and the land returned to its original state. Residential and commercial applications are often rooftop panels. Solbridge deals in ground mounts, which Trowbridge said would mean no emissions, noise, ground water contamination, vibrations or traffic.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.