News Column

Solar Farm Plan Gets Local, Irks Neighbors

Feb 20, 2013

Paul A. Specht

A Wake County board on Tuesday approved plans for a solar farm just outside Zebulon despite objections from about 30 neighbors who for two hours argued that it would hurt their property values.

Many of the neighbors wore red to the Feb. 12 Wake County Board of Adjustment meeting, where the board took comment on a request to allow construction of a solar farm on about 15 acres at 2129 Pearces Road in Zebulon.

Chad Ray, the property owner, hopes to sell the land to O2 Energies, which says it wants to build a 2-megawatt solar farm there in order to harness power and sell it back to Progress Energy. The project costs an estimated $5 million, and the solar farm would generate enough electricity to power 200 homes a year.

But neighbors sought to block the request. They hired an attorney, Robin Currin, who questioned O2 Energies owner Joel Olsen and a real estate appraiser for about an hour on the proposed solar farm and the potential impact it would have on the community. She asked the board to throw out the appraiser's report which said a solar farm would have little financial impact on the value of surrounding properties. She said the report wasn't valid because it wasn't an official appraisal, but the opinion of an appraiser. The board allowed his report as evidence.

Neighbors also argued that the solar panels wouldn't fit the aesthetics of their agricultural community.

"They're unsightly. You can put lipstick on a hog but you can't make it beautiful," said Gary Shouse, who lives near the proposed solar farm site.

The adjustment board's blessing prompted a sign of relief from Ray, who said he owes a large amount of debt on the land. Tax records indicate Ray paid almost $192,000 for the property in 2005.Wake County real estate records show it's valued for tax purposes at about $210,000.

Ray declined to say how much he owes on the property or how much O2 Energies is offering for it. If the solar farm wasn't approved, Ray, who lives in Bunn, said he would raise hogs on the Zebulon land because he needs income.

"I've got 300 pasture-based free-range hogs behind my house," Ray said during the hearing. "Nothing would make my wife happier than to see those someplace else."

'You don't care about us'

The vote and Ray's comments evoked an emotional response from some neighbors. After the vote, Patricia Shaffer, who lives adjacent to Ray's property, confronted Olsen in the middle of the board room.

"You all don't care about us," Shaffer said, pointing at Olsen as others walked around her to leave the boardroom. "I don't mean to be mean or nasty but this hurts. Why here? Why not six miles down the road?"

Shaffer told the board that, when she moved to Zebulon from West Virginia last year, she picked her house out specifically because the neighborhood is scenic and suits her father who lives with her and has Alzheimer's disease. Shaffer said her father would likely become irritated by construction of a solar farm and by having to look at it from his bedroom window.

"How am I going to explain this to him? " she said.

In the courtroom hallway, Shaffer told Ray she wouldn't have moved to her home if she knew Ray was selling the property to O2 Energies.

It's unclear if and when Ray and O2 Energies will close a deal. On Wednesday, Olsen declined to commit to building a solar farm on the site.

"We need to look at the economics (of pursuing the solar farm). We want to make sure our projects would benefit the community and create value," Olsen said. "There are other locations where people would really like to have this in their community."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)


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