Stanly County commissioners to consider environmental reviews for solar farm applicants

Prospective solar farms in Stanly County may soon face more delays to be approved in terms of the process.

County Manager Andy Lucas said several applications have been submitted, including one on Philadelphia Church Road and another in the Frog Pond area in Oakboro.

Lucas said the county needs to have expert help on evaluating the applications “from an environmental perspective.”

“We should be contracting with a firm to review these,” Lucas said. He added the county needs “to make sure that the applications are meeting the environmental pieces of our ordinance because that’s not something our staff has any expertise in. We’re not environmental engineers at all.”

Lucas said Michael Ellison, an engineer with WK Dickson, helped develop the county’s ordinance on solar farms, and is someone he “would like the authority to be able to contract with them to help us review these solar farm applications.”

Having the expert help, he added, “helps us to have a better, solid foundation for making a decision.”

The cost could be between $5,000 and $10,000 for each evaluation.  Lucas said the county would recoup the cost from the applicants.

“I don’t agree (on) spending any money that won’t get recouped from the solar power companies,” Commissioner Mike Barbee said.

Chairman Tommy Jordan said the expert opinions would mean a decision against a solar farm would not be just the opinion of the board. It means the board would “have the input of an entire engineering firm.”

Having the input would not mean the board could not deny a solar farm application, Jordan added.

“You still can say, ‘I appreciate that, but the voters of Stanly County don’t want (a solar farm).’ To me, that’s been the answer from voters,” Jordan said.

Lucas said the review of applications would be more “robust” and added the move would slow the process down “by months, not years.”

He said he would bring a budget amendment before the board at the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 17.