Firm eyes solar farm west of U.S. 17 Bypass in Pasquotank County
By Jon Hawley
The Daily Advance
Thursday, November 8, 2018
ELIZABETH CITY — Pasquotank County officials confirmed on Monday a solar company proposing a major solar farm in Pasquotank County is called Adani Solar, and that its Birchwood Solar farm would span across the western side of U.S. 17 Bypass near Halstead Boulevard Extended, potentially interfering with future commercial development there.
Adani is a solar manufacturer based in India, but it's applying for the project through its Adani Solar USA office in Irving, Texas.
The company approached Pasquotank earlier this year about building a solar farm of 3,000 acres or more, which would be the largest in the county. The scope of the project led county officials to impose a 60-day moratorium from June to August, giving officials time to amend the county's solar ordinance to place new restrictions on the project.
Adani officials apparently addressed the county's concerns during that time, and the moratorium expired without new restrictions on solar farms.
County Manager Sparty Hammett reported in early September, however, that the company was considering different locations — including across from U.S. 17 and Halstead Boulevard Extended. That prompted county staff to recommend another 60-day moratorium, during which county commissioners could impose new rules on Adani's project.
Adani submitted a permit application for the solar farm it’s calling Birchwood Solar three days before the moratorium took effect on Oct. 1. However, Planning Director Shelley Cox returned that application to Adani, deeming it incomplete. In a letter, she told the firm its proposed solar facility lacked a stormwater drainage analysis and a decommissioning plan.
County staff's position is that Birchwood Solar will be subject to new solar restrictions, provided those restrictions are adopted before the moratorium expires on Nov. 29. Hammett said Adani would have been grandfathered under the current rules if it had submitted a complete application.
The Pasquotank Planning Board is set to review the county's proposed solar restrictions on Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m. at the county courthouse. Hammett said he did not know if an Adani representative will attend the meeting.
The county has proposed restrictions that have the potential to seriously affect Adani's project. Amendments would cap solar farms at 250 acres or fewer, require a mile's separation between solar farms, and impose half-mile setbacks from U.S. 17 Bypass and Halstead Extended.
Adani not only has proposed a much larger project, but its plans call for much of Birchwood t0 run alongside U.S. 17.
Hammett said on Monday that, when Adani first proposed investing in Pasquotank, it had pitched a solar manufacturing facility that could create hundreds of jobs. The county was “very interested” in that, but its plans changed to just building a solar farm, he said.
Hammett said he considers a solar farm next to Halstead Boulevard Extended to be a “bad location” for the county.
Halstead is a growing commercial corridor and the county envisions the road crossing over U.S. 17 Bypass to allow more businesses to be built on the bypass’s western side. Birchwood would occupy that land and block those plans, he said.