Residents who live in the area of a solar farm being planned for this town’s southern limits learned more about the plans Wednesday and had the chance to voice their concerns before the project begins in earnest.
Representatives of the partnering developers, Cypress Creek Renewables and Pine Gate Development, assured the dozen or so residents on several occasions that they intend to consider their input and work with them to come up with a plan that satisfies all parties.
“We don’t want to rock the boat,” said Cody Shadley, a project developer for Pine Gate. “It doesn’t make sense for us. That’s the whole point of this meeting is for everyone to come out, talk about it and get on the same page.”
Unknown before the meeting was why the developers expressed in letters to residents their intent to file a rezoning request for one of the three parcels that make up the site between South Arendell Avenue and South Wakefield Street, which owner Elizabeth Horton and family aim to lease.
John Craig, whose Arendell Avenue properties abut the 5.5 acre northern parcel, had said that it appeared the 32-acre southern parcel alone provided more than enough space for the 30-acre solar farm described in the letter he received. The zoning for that parcel and the 9-acre central parcel already allows for solar farms as a general use, with only site plan approval needed from Zebulon’s Technical Review Committee before construction could begin.
Project representatives on Wednesday explained they are not yet certain how much of the southern parcel is usable for their needs. They want to have both the smaller parcels as options to turn to in case they run into construction roadblocks within the larger space.
Specifically, Shadley mentioned possible wetland obstacles on the eastern side of the larger parcel.
“Wetland delineation, because of the chance of there being a wetland issue, rather than going out we would go up,” Shadley told the crowd at the Zebulon Community Center.
He said if they can fit the project into the two southern parcels, they could eliminate the need to bring the northern parcel into the plans. The developers could have a report on where they would and would not be able to install solar panels within a month’s time, Phillip Martin of Cypress Creek said.
“If we can make this happen, were going to make it happen, especially because of the zoning alone,” Shadley said. “It comes down to surveys and wetland delineations and after these steps, that’s when we know what we’re working with.”
The residents reeled off a variety of frequently-asked questions regarding solar farms. Buffers, sound, glare, electromagnetic radiation and tax value to the town were among the topics discussed.
Richard Marshall, who owns land across South Wakefield Street from the proposed site, near the location where it would hook up to Duke Engergy’s grid, spoke more than once in support of a solar farm.
“This is a place where Zebulon can show we are a green friendly community,” Marshall said. “This is interesting and I hope it works out.”
In the same breath, Marshall questioned what visibility would be like from his property, and what effect a solar farm would have on the value of the land he said is the future of his family.
“I support the project, but the way I see it, it isn’t any good for my land,” Marshall said. “You’ve got some very concerned people and I feel it’s going to work. But it depends on the design and what they do. Zebulon has some very intelligent people. We want to see it developed properly.”
The representatives gave details on 20-25-foot setbacks and surrounding buffers that would shield 6- to 7-foot-tall chain-link fences with barbed wire running across the top.
“Our goal is to drive by and for you to not even know it’s there,” Shadley said. “We’re gonna make it as pretty as possible.”
Craig said he was concerned that he couldn’t find another solar farm situated so close to residential areas to draw comparisons from.
He also expressed concerns about the distance between canopies of the trees that would serve as buffers, and how long it would take them to mature to full height.
“I’m 67,” Craig said. “I don’t have 15 years to wait for that thing to come to fruition.”
Martin, the Cypress Creek representative, asked Craig if expanding buffers and providing additional setback would satisfy his concerns.
“We’ll look at it,” Craig replied. “We have a kind of closed mind because we have concerns. I just don’t want to have to sit there and look at that doggone chain link fence.”