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Considering new industry

The Cumberland County Planning Commission took steps to lay ground rules for a relatively new industry for the county: solar farms.

The county’s consideration of including an ordinance for solar farms comes in the wake of interest in developing a community solar farm program in the county from Cooperative Solar, LLC, based in Durham, North Carolina.

A representative of Cooperative Solar, Rex Young and Cooperative Solar attorney, William Shewmake — who is also the attorney for the Green Ridge landfill — spoke about interest in developing a solar farm in the county and suggested items to include and reconsider in the ordinance draft.

The meeting brought up questions and suggestions from the commission and speakers that need to be considered as a whole, including whether to expand the ordinance to land zoned industrial and residential in addition to agricultural; creating a specific plan of how the facility would be torn down, or decommissioned, in the event the facility served its use; whether the responsibility would fall to the company or property owner; the specific noise decibel allowance for the facility and installing buffers.

Planning and Zoning Director J.P. Duncan noted that some of the information he based the ordinance draft on came from Buckingham County’s solar farm ordinance. Buckingham is in the process of installing a solar farm, Buckingham I Solar Facility from Dominion Energy. The solar farm is expected to have approximately 66,000 solar panels and produce 20-megawatts that will be acquired by Amazon’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It’s encouraging to see the members of the planning commission discuss this issue in-depth and seek to understand and implement conditions that would benefit the county and the land surrounding any proposed solar farm.

I would encourage the commission and board of supervisors to continue to seek information from other counties, from Cooperative Solar and from independent sources about the process, potential drawbacks and potential benefits to look out for, though would caution using the solar company as a sole or primary source to prevent potential bias. I would also encourage the county to develop specific conditions that make clear which agency or agencies are responsible for the project’s construction, operation and decommission.

EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH is a staff reporter for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is Emily.Hollingsworth@ FarmvilleHerald.com.