The development of a solar farm along U.S. 421 was approved by the Clinton City Council during a recent meeting, with developers and others touting the project for its neighborly characteristics and tax benefits, while providing a buffer between residential and industrial properties.
A conditional use request by McGrigor Farm Solar, LLC to develop a solar farm as a utility facility (neighborhood) was unanimously approved following a public hearing, during which solar experts and land appraisers spoke to the issue.
The proposed site, located at 1105 N. U.S. 421, Clinton, is bordered on the north and west by residential properties and to the east and south by industrial. The properties contain approximately 41 acres, of which 32.5 acres will be leased for the solar farm. The proposed development will be enclosed by a 6-foot tall security fence and meets all setback requirements of the Clinton Land Development Ordinance, Clinton Planning Director Mary M. Rose noted.
Rose said the majority of the area proposed for development is located in a low-density residential area. Such uses have been identified where development pressures are lowest due to a lack of available water, sewer and other public services.
Beth Trahos, attorney with Nelson Mullins, said the area was perfect for the conditional use request.
“The surrounding land uses are agricultural, industrial and residential so there are a mix of uses in the area,” said Trahos. “Solar farms, luckily, are good neighbors for all those uses. They are quiet, they are safe, they generate little traffic, much fewer trips than one single family home. They’re low in height — lower than a barn or house — and they use no county services.”
Brent Niemann, director of civil engineering at Strata Solar out of Chapel Hill, prepared the site plan for McGrigor Farm Solar. He said that neighbors were contacted and informed of the particulars of the project.
“Everyone is on board with what we’re doing,” said Neimann. “We’re a quiet, dark neighbor in the evening and we feel like it is an appropriate use for the property.”
He said a natural buffer will extend along the security fence, with other natural vegetation brought in to supplement what isn’t already there. The equipment would be driven into the ground so it can be removed in the future. The proposed use would have no impact on adjoining property owners with regards to noise or vibration, officials said.
Rich Kirkland, appraiser with Kirkland Appraisals LLC of Raleigh, has been examining the potential effects of solar farms on property values for nearly a decade. In that time, he has evaluated more than 500 solar farms, the majority of which in North Carolina. Kirkland said he found that solar farms do not negatively affect surrounding property values, in fact having “no impact” when looking at the sales of identical properties near and not near solar farms.
“It is my professional opinion that this project will have no impact on the adjoining property values, and that it is a harmonious location,” said Kirkland, who noted that the McGrigor project was “atypical” in that it has some industrial and commercial neighbors. “Only about 9 percent of the projects have any kind of industrial or commercial uses around them. Normally, they are rural or residential.”
“This is a very good use of that land to form a buffer between the residential uses and the industrial uses,” Kirkland noted.
Jane Forde, who signed the application as the property owner, and Carson Harkrader, CEO of Carolina Solar Energy, the project developer, were in attendance during the public meeting but did not speak to the issue.
The useful life with original equipment is approximately 25-30 years, however equipment may be replaced to extend the useful life, Trahos told Council members. Decommissioning will occur when the facility ceases to produce energy on a continuous basis for 12 months, unless substantial evidence is provided to maintain and reinstate the operation of the facility.
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.