I was intrigued to learn that Cleveland County, N.C. is considering a zoning ordinance amendment to make solar farms allowable only in light and heavy industrial districts.
It appears the ordinance amendment is being considered because solar farms – like practically all land use change proposals – bring out neighbors who do not want change. And Cleveland County has had several large solar projects come through local approval.
But changing the Table of Permitted Uses to allow utility-scale solar only in industrial districts, as opposed to agricultural and rural residential districts, only means that solar developers will file applications to rezone large rural tracts to a light industrial zoning district.
I’m sure the proposed change arises from good intentions, but it misses the mark in several places. For example:
- RA and AG districts are universally considered appropriate for a wide variety of industrial uses, including mines and quarries, lumber yards, airports, landfills, broadcast towers, and yes, farms. In many cases, what one might call a “real farm” cannot function without large trucks and loud, heavy equipment.
- Although a solar energy facility is technically “industrial,” it possesses none of the traits we associate with industrial uses. Specifically, a solar farm does not produce industrial traffic, industrial noise, industrial odors, industrial sized buildings, or use industrial lighting. In fact, solar farms produce no audible noise, no perceptible traffic, no lights, no odors, and no dust. On average, these facilities generate fewer vehicle trips per month than a typical single family home generates per day. With minimal landscaping, neighboring owners usually forget that they are there.
- The early phase of solar energy in the 2 to 5 megawatt projects is giving way to facilities that range from 20 megawatts to hundreds of megawatts. At a rule-of-thumb ten acres per megawatt that means the new, larger facilities will require several hundreds of acres. The only place such tracts can be assembled is in rural areas. If a county had several hundred acres of contiguous land zoned for industrial use, it would be wiser to market it for a megasite or industries that create more permanent jobs.
- Solar farms actually save large rural tracts from housing developments that bring traffic and noise into a rural community and enable the land to remain in the family. When the lease is up, the land can be returned to agricultural or timber use.
- In my experience, which is – wild guess – more than 125 solar farm approvals in 4 states, true farmers are among the last to complain that someone has found a profitable way to use their land. Those who complain loudest usually are people who are new to rural areas and now want to control how their neighbors use their land.
But Cleveland County has a good planning staff and excellent attorneys who assist. I wish them luck in making this decision.
If you found this helpful or of interest, please add your email below to receive future posts, and feel free to forward to others. You can search my older posts below, dating back to 2009.