Changes to solar farm regulations may be coming to Pender County

Solar panels
Solar panels(Michael Cantu KWTX)
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 3:40 PM EST
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Pender County Planning Board met on Tuesday, Nov. 15 to discuss proposed changes in solar farm regulations.

Current rules allow for solar panels and other power equipment under the “Other Electric Power Generation (NAICS 22119)” label in two zoning districts and with a special use permit in three others.

Brought by the county’s planning and community development department, the proposal would stop allowing “Other Electric Power Generation” with a special use permit in the Rural Agricultural, Residential Performance and Planned Development zoning districts. This would mean developers would have to go through conditional rezoning to allow the equipment in these zoning districts.

The amendment notes that this grants the planning board and board of commissioners greater flexibility in recommending or requiring more specific standards for approval of a given rezoning.

The size of these solar farms is a big sticking point in the amendment, which says that these uses are often “a large-scale utility project” that could hurt the character of the rural or residential district.

The change would also require a special use permit for this infrastructure to be built in the Industrial Transitional and General Industrial zoning districts, while currently it is allowed by right in those districts. Per the Unified Development Ordinance, Industrial Transitional allows heavy commercial activities with large-scale marketing or wholesaling along with production and assembly on the site, and General Industrial allows for manufacturing, processing, assembly and other industrial uses.

Getting a special use permit means having a public hearing held on the project and convincing the county commissioners to vote in favor of it.

The proposal says this would “ensure that the requested use will not impair the integrity or character of the surrounding or adjoining districts, nor adversely affect the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community or of the immediate neighbors of the property, and will not constitute a nuisance or a hazard or adversely affect the surrounding uses, etc.”

As for the rest of southeastern North Carolina, the proposal outlines their solar farm policies as follows:

  • Bladen County: Approved via Special Use Permit (SUP) in the Residential and Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial districts. Requires full screening and decommissioning plan.
  • Brunswick County: Approved via SUP in the Rural Low Density Residential, Commercial-Intensive, Industrial-Rural and Industrial-General districts. Requires maintenance and security plan and decommissioning plan.
  • Columbus County: Approved via SUP. Has setback and buffering and maintenance requirements.
  • New Hanover County: Approved via SUP in the Airport Commerce district, and allowed by right in the Light Industrial and Heavy Industrial districts.
  • Duplin County: requires planning board approval, and has special standards for screening, setbacks and buffering with violation penalties of $500 per day.

The planning board voted unanimously in favor of the amendment, and the Pender County Board of Commissioners will consider the amendment at a later date.