Currituck commissioners discuss solar farm status
Published 5:28 am Thursday, November 21, 2019
Currituck County commissioners met for a special two-hour work session Monday and discussed the Grandy solar farm status, potential school sites and island development regulations.
After assurances that there would be no problems at a Grandy solar farm, area residents saw their worst fears realized in September when the powerful 90 mph winds generated by Hurricane Dorian proved more than the array of solar panels could handle. According to county manager Ben Stikeleather, an engineer’s quote for repairs to the solar farm has been received.
Built on the former Goose Creek Golf Course site on the west side of Caratoke Highway, county commissioners had ruled against its construction in 2016, saying that the solar farm was detrimental to public safety. After winding through the court system, a 2018 North Carolina Court of Appeals opinion mandated that Currituck issue Ecoplexus, a company that develops solar farms, the necessary permits.
Among the conditions allowed to be imposed are 300 foot setbacks from neighboring residential property lines and 100 feet from commercial properties, 15 foot maximum height for solar panels, shrubs and trees buffers to screen the property from residential property views, and panels must be constructed to withstand high winds from heavy storms and hurricanes.
During the evening’s discussion, the option of having a separate outside engineer examine the plans was suggested.
Although Chairman Bob White felt the board could be on thin ice second guessing the company’s engineer, commissioner Paul M. Beaumont said “When you have a design fail as abysmally as that one does, and start slinging stuff around, then I think we have an obligation. Especially at 1,500 bucks. The reality is there were no lock nuts and no lock washers.”
As the discussion continued it was noted that if a second engineer comes back with a different design, that can lead to litigation for the courts to sort out in a battle of the experts.
Commissioner Kevin E. McCord then advised that he has had communication with an Ecoplexus representative and read a message that indicates the company is conducting a full diagnosis to see what went wrong and why as well as trying to determine what can be done to ensure that similar failures do not take place ever in the future.
Later in the meeting, McCord said he contacted the company representative in California who advised that information was being forwarded to the company’s Durham office and that they will do whatever needs to be done.
“I think they are trying to do the right thing,” said McCord.
Based on that response, commissioners agreed to see what steps Ecoplexus is planning to take before moving forward.
“Then if we are not satisfied we can go for a separate analysis,” added White.
Another discussion for the evening included setting development guidelines for islands within the county.
Stikeleather said staff is looking for direction in developing a text amendment for commissioners to review that would allow building homes built on any islands.
Stikeleather said a big concern is with meeting fire code and recommended limiting the number of homes built on any island. Consensus was to have no more than two houses on an island with each structure limited to 4,000 square feet.
Other guidelines dealt with staging areas for construction materials, parking requirement, boat launch areas and contractors being responsible for getting inspectors to the site.
Beaumont pointed out that parking agreements could change over time and suggested simply following county code with no overnight parking at public areas.
Stikeleather also mentioned that a timeline for building a new school in 2023 requires having a site determined by June 2020. Two locations are potential sites, but one is under contract and there has been no response from the owner of another property.
Stikeleather said there is acreage at Moyock Elementary and he has asked for a feasibility study, but the school board cooled to the idea, in part due to traffic flow concerns similar to those at the high school in Barco.
He went on to say that although the county funds the school, the school poard determines the physical site, adding “If we don’t have the site by June, we will have to put off a new school until 2024.”
At the suggestion of commissioner Owen Etheridge, the board agreed to consider the issue and revisit it at the December meeting.