By Dee Langston on April 11, 2016
Currituck County’s solar energy boom may be over.
Commissioners last week denied a request for rezoning and a conditional use permit that would have allowed Ecoplexus to build a solar energy farm on an abandoned golf course in Grandy.
Opponents of the project, which would have been the county’s third solar farm, nearly filled the commissioner’s meeting room Monday night.
At one point, they had to be gently chided by Chairman David Griggs for chuckling during a presentation by Nathan Rogers, project development manager for the solar energy company.
As part of a Powerpoint presentation detailing the economic benefits to the county, Rogers mentioned $300,000 spent locally in equipment rentals. Commissioner Paul Beaumont put Rogers on the spot by asking him which local equipment companies were in Currituck County, to the bemusement of the audience, as there are none.
Rogers then went a little further, mentioning $400,000 in local room and board, food, water and beer, which locals found even more amusing, considering lower Currituck’s lack of hotels.
Griggs interrupted. “Please let us show them the courtesy that I know you have, as good Currituckians, for our people who are visitors here,” he said. “This type of reaction doesn’t provide any positive impact.”
But the benefits of the project, or lack of, to local residents appeared to be the crux of the commissioners’ decisions.
Commissioner Paul O’Neal pointed out that a common theme of the presentations, including those for the solar farms in Moyock and Shawboro, had been jobs. However, the solar companies seemed to prefer out-of-state contractors, he said, rather than locals for the construction work.
“I’ve yet to meet anyone in Currituck County who got one of those jobs,” he added.
Another concern of commissioners and the nearby residents who objected to the solar farm was drainage. The plan included leveling the man-made hills and filling in the man-made ponds, which residents worried would result in flooding of their neighborhoods. Beaumont pointed out that standing water would breed mosquitoes, which he jokingly referred to as the former state bird.
Charles Lollar, a Norfolk attorney specializing in eminent domain and property rights, addressed the commissioners on behalf of the property owners in the Goose Greek area.
He called the plan to build the solar farm contrary to the county’s land-use plan, adding that an industrial use is incompatible with the residential use of the adjoining property.
Although the county may gain the temporary benefit of some increased property taxes, in the long run, the county would lose property that could be developed in a way that would be more beneficial for the county, he argued.
“It’s going to hurt the economy, and hurt the potential, certainly, for Grandy to grow, especially after the mid-county bridge is completed,” Lollar said, adding that he believed that the bridge would be built, and bring sustainable growth to lower Currituck.
“This is not what you want to do with your property in the midst of a full-service community,” Lollar said. “It’s time to pull back,” he added. “This is not the time to approve another solar plant in Currituck County.”
Prior to the vote on the use permit, the commissioners each said that they had received a letter from the owner of the property, who wanted to move forward. That contact, along with conversations with constituents, didn’t sway them in their decision, they said.
Commissioner Mike Payment made the motion to deny the rezoning. “Growing up in Grandy, I’ve seen businesses come and go,” he said. “I just can’t see how rezoning this and eliminating some of that potential growth can be positive for the Grandy area.”
The former Goose Creek Golf Course, or, more recently, Grandy Golf Course, is at 6562 Caratoke Highway.