The Planning Commission here voted to approve a nearly 50-acre solar farm site on Creech Road at Monday night’s meeting.
Creech Solar 2’s proposal for the 48-acre solar farm was supposed to go before the planning commission last month, but developers had to ask for a continuance because the town’s planning staff raised a few concerns with its plan.
Among the issues were questions about the life expectancy of the panels, their non-reflective quality, landscaping, fire protection and a decommissioning plan.
Nonetheless, those issues were fixed, and the planning commission’s vote for approval moves the plan forward to a public hearing at Tuesday’s town council meeting.
The process of going from the planning commission to the council normally takes longer, but the solar farm company asked to have the process expedited.
“We approached the town staff last fall and (about) looking into the site, we’ve been working on bringing solar to Garner for a year,” David York, an attorney for the company, said at the meeting. “Contractual obligations have us somewhat backed us up against the wall.”
The solar farm will be located on the west side of Creech Road about half a mile past Creech Road Elementary off West Garner Road. The proposed site of the solar farm is currently on undeveloped land and will be on two different tracts of land catty-cornered to each other.
It is surrounded by single family homes and a multi-family development. The site is required to have a 35 foot perimeter buffer adjacent to undeveloped tracks and a 55-foot buffer adjacent to developed land.
Some concerns residents and commission members have expressed are the sound of the solar panels, because of the proximity to the homes and the visual impact of the operation.
Commissioner Vira Hogan asked, if an alarm to the solar panels went off, would it be noticeable to neighboring residents. York said the sites are monitored remotely at a different site, and wouldn’t be heard by neighbors.
Dan Parker, who lives on Dan Dixon Drive, close to the solar farm, said he wondered particularly about whether the solar farms would cause his property value to decrease.
But developers say it won’t be noticeable from the road or his house. It will be behind trees along the road and surrounded by buffers higher than its tallest panel.
Tom Hester, a real-estate appraiser, who came as a representative for the company said, based on his analysis, solar farms tend to not affect property values because of the buffers required for them.
“Really the only impact it could have is visual,” Hester said. “And this particular site is really tucked back in there.”
The racking system and panels will be 9- to 10-feet high. The inverters, which convert direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) will be 9-11 feet high. The wood power poles carrying the power out to Creech Road along the driveway will be 20-25 feet high.
The racking system, panels and inverters will be enclosed with a six-foot chain-link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. The company will also have to pay a decommissioning fee up front. The fee, town staff hopes, will prevent the company from leaving any equipment behind in case they decide to move.
Solar farms are becoming increasingly popular in the Triangle. Solar panels absorb light and convert it to electricity. The electricity is supplied to residential and commercial buildings. If approved, the proposed solar farm would be the first in Garner.
And for two months, town staff worked on getting the Unified Development Ordinance changed to allow a provision for solar farms. Planning Director Brad Bass said the town did not feel comfortable allowing a solar farm in the town, the way the previous rules were written.
The town council approved the change at its last town council meeting. Solar farms now have their own classification and will be permitted in R-40, SB, I-1, and I-2 zoning classifications.