Solar farm proposal gets county residents fired up

Abby Cavenaugh Editor

October 8, 2013

Residents near a proposed solar farm on Carver Street in Wadesboro packed the Anson County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to voice their opposition to the farm.

Suzanne Todd, an attorney for Strata Solar Development, and a team of engineers appeared before the board to ask for a conditional use permit so that the proposed farm could be located at 1641 Carver St. in Wadesboro.

During a two-hour public hearing, Louis Iannone, site acquisition manager for Strata Solar, laid out the plans for the solar farm, explaining that solar farms are located on anywhere from 30-50 acres, and include 25,000 3-by-5 foot solar panels. When the sun passes through the glass panels, it releases electrons in to DC current, which creates renewable energy. Strata Solar will then sell that energy to Duke Power.

The majority of the proposed area is surrounded by woods, Iannone said, but there are residences 320 feet away from the site.

Commission Chair Anna Baucom asked if the farm would create jobs. The answer: it will create very few jobs. No employees are required on site; they visit monthly for maintenance. The solar farm would be a passive power plant, with no disruption to the environment or surrounding homes. In response to a question from Commissioner Jim Sims about the benefits of this project for Anson County, Iannone said it will add to the county’s tax base and therefore bring in tax revenue.

Although engineers Brent Niemann and Gabe Cantor repeatedly said the farm will not endanger public health, residents of the Carver Street community were not convinced. Bishop Walter Ellerbe presented a petition of residents who are opposed to the project.

“There have always been presentations that this is safe but then the effects become known years later,” he said. “They say home values won’t be affected, but these homes aren’t all that valuable anyway. They’re our homes though, and they’re worth a lot to us.”

Nancy Bryant, who lives near the Anson County line in Stanly County, said she knows what corporations can do to rural communities, but assured the Carver Street residents solar energy would not be like that. “This is not going to degrade your community,” she said.

Beverley Getzen of Wadesboro also spoke in favor of the solar farm. “This is not a health situation,” she said.

Sandra Ellerbe said that she had listened to what everyone had to say, and that others have had a choice whether or not to add solar panels to their homes. “We don’t want it in our neighborhood,” she said.

Kathy Gaddy, also a resident of the community near the proposed solar farm, asked the Strata Solar representatives if they could guarantee that there would be no health effects. “As a professional engineer, I have a duty to protect public health,” Cantor said. “I have no desire to endanger anyone’s health.” He added that he has two small daughters, and he takes them to solar farm work sites often. “You are visiting though,” Gaddy replied. “We’d be living there.”

Dr. Victoria Rommel also spoke on the health issues, saying that studies have been inconclusive on the long-term effects of exposure to solar energy. “The bottom line is that it requires more research,” she said.

Baucom said that although the hearing had taken two hours, “we haven’t moved forward an inch.” She said that she was not ready to make a decision on the matter, and that it would require more research and thought.

Effort to save old hospital buildings under way

Chair Anna Baucom asked that the commissioners consider saving two 1910-era buildings on the Anson Community Hospital site from demolition. She said she had received a sealed bid for the purchase of the two buildings, and that the individual wishing to purchase the buildings had a history of restoring old, run-down buildings in Anson County.

“I think keeping those buildings would be a detriment to the community,” Commissioner Sims said, later adding that the cost to restore the buildings would probably be more than the cost to tear them down and build two new structures.

“These buildings are a part of our history and a part of our heritage,” Baucom said. “Once these two buildings are gone, we won’t get them back.”

After some discussion, the commissioners agreed to have attorney Scott Forbes work up a conditional agreement for the sale of the properties, although before any sale is made, the property must be subdivided.

In other business, the commissioners heard from Dr. Rommel about problems with her lease at one of the two old hospital buildings. They plan to work with Carolinas HealthCare System to iron out the problems.

The commissioners also accepted a bid from Don Scarborough for the sale of Hailey’s Ferry Road Property for $130,100.

The board set up a date and time to review candidates for the county manager’s position, and heard an update from the Upper Pee Dee Farm & Food Council.