LUMBERTON — Rowland Mayor Elizabeth Hunt made it clear Monday to the Robeson County Planning Board that her community doesn’t want a solar farm, but the board gave its nod, and now the decision will be up to the county Board of Commissioners.
“We are not in favor of solar panels,” Hunt said, telling the board that the Rowland Board of Commissioners and town residents are strongly against a solar farm being built just outside their town.
“Bring us jobs, medical facilities, rest homes. Build us a park on this land where we can provide activities,” Hunt said. “But this (solar farm) is not what we need … Rowland is a town of a thousand friends. When we say howdy to a solar panel it doesn’t say howdy back.”
One member of the Planning Board, Russell Montgomery, voted against approving the farm to be constructed on N.C. 130 as a condition use in an area zoned Agriculture-Residential. He said there are just “too many uncertainties” about how the farm will affect property values of nearby residents.
“I’m not against solar farms,” Montgomery told The Robesonian after the meeting. “I’ve voted in favor of others in rural areas. There’s just too many uncertainties about this one being located close to residents.”
Carolina Solar Energy, of Durham, plans to install 26,000 solar panels on 45 acres of a 64-acre tract of land. According to company representative Gerry Dudzik, the farm will produce 9,289,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year, enough electricity to provide power to 750 to 800 homes.
Another company representative, Jordan Nance, told the board the site will be secure with a 6-foot fence, a locked gate will control entrance to the access road, and security cameras will be installed. He also said that construction of the farm will employ about 120 to 130 temporary workers for two to three months, with no employees being on site once the construction is completed and the farm is operating.
The motion to recommend that the county commissioners approve the construction of the solar farm, with several stipulations that were put in place when other solar farms were approved, was made by Terry Evans.
“I have studied these panels and they are safe,” Evans told a few concerned residents who attended the meeting to oppose the farm being constructed in their backyard. “I’ve never heard of any concerns (about safety). People are afraid of change, but we are talking about bringing energy here.”
Another member of the Planning Board, Tom Jones, pointed out that Rowland could capture some tax revenue by annexing the site.
James Locklear, the board’s vice chairman, said that he and other board members had made a site visit to a solar farm located near Fairmont High School and found no problems. He said he was told by one nearby resident that the farm had not been a problem for those in the community.
“He said it makes no sound and doesn’t bother anyone. It’s kept clean,” Locklear said. “My opinion is that this is just modern technology.”
Rowland resident Walter Hodge spoke against the project, telling the board that it should be more mindful of the future when planning for county development.
“It’s essential that we have good planning,” he said.
Hodge told the board that a solar farm should not be constructed in an area with such fertile farmland.
“This is some of the best farmland in Robeson County,” Hodge said. “This should be put in a non-productive area.”
Hodge also raised his concern about possible health dangers associated with living close to a solar farm.
“There has never been a study done to prove these farms are safe,” he said.
Hodge told The Robesonian that he has been told by two commissioners, whom he would not identify, that they will vote against the conditional-use permit.
The commissioners are expected to hear the case when they hold their first monthly meeting in April.