The City/County Joint Planning Commission is recommending officials deny a pair of proposed solar ventures capable of generating 6 megawatts of power a year, saying neither is in harmony with a long-range land use plan.

Both projects would tie into Duke Energy’s grid, and the utility would then sell the power to users, Eric Mierka, development project director for Asheville, North Carolina-based Pine Gate Renewables, told commissioners.

The Planning Commission is an advisory panel, so ultimately it will be up to the County and City councils to decide on the rezones needed for construction to begin.

Briarwood Solar LLC, located on Florida Avenue in an unincorporated part of Greenwood County, seeks to change 37.5 acres from single-family residential to light industrial, while Woodfields Solar LLC is asking for approval to convert 290.5 acres along East Cambridge Avenue from medium density residential to limited industrial/warehousing.

Elizabeth Trajos, an attorney with Nelson Mullins specializing in energy law, said the Florida Avenue project — which would be surrounded by 25-foot vegetative buffer and 7-foot high chain link fence, said surrounding property owners would see a loss in value from the solar array.

“We see the benefit as being a long-term, low-intensity user of a piece of property that provides certainty going forward,” Trajos said. “It creates no noise, no traffic. If the utility regulatory environment were such that we could sneak an extension cord out to our neighbors, we would do it but that’s not the way utility regulation works.”

Pine Gate, a national developer of solar farms, oversees more than 400 megawatts’ worth of projects, enough to power 300,000 homes annually.

Commissioners voted 8-2 against both solar requests, with no discussion on the smaller Briarwood one.

Commissioner Janice Coffey said she embraces solar technology, but had worries about rezoning nearly 300 acres for potential warehousing in the future.

Mierka said only 107 of the 290.5 acres are included in the rezone request, with 52 of those set aside for solar use.

City/County Planner Phil Lindler said state law prevents the granting of variances for projects that fall outside the scope of a particular zone, limiting the commission’s options.

That’s what gave Coffey pause.

“Today, solar panels are en vogue and we’re using that technology. Ten, 15 years from now, God knows what we’ll be doing. And then, when the solar panels are taken out, whatever kind of warehouse somebody is wanting to build or whatever kind of thing somebody wants to do on that property, it’s already zoned for that, and that’s one of the concerns I have,” she said. “With somebody wanting to know, ‘What’s your reason for denying it,’ that would be one of mine.”

Lindler said the county requires a decommissioning plan as part of approved solar projects that includes a “financial guarantee” that all items are removed once the site’s useful life has expired.

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.


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