Smithfield Herald

Solar farm proposal divides Johnston neighbors

The intersection of Bizzell Grove Church Road and Hinnant-Edgerton Road could become home to one of the largest solar farms in Johnston County.
The intersection of Bizzell Grove Church Road and Hinnant-Edgerton Road could become home to one of the largest solar farms in Johnston County. ndunn@newsobserver.com

A proposal to build what could be Johnston County’s largest solar farm is dividing neighbors near Micro.

The three-part solar array, spread over roughly 130 acres, would go up near the intersection of Bizzell Grove Church Road and Hinnant-Edgerton Road.

The landowner, Edith Bizzell, said her family has worked hard to pay for the land but has chosen a new use for the property that she thinks is safe. Her neighbors, however, say the farms would mar the beauty of the area, the reason they bought there in the first place.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners will decide in February whether to allow the solar farms, which would include equipment on the ground and on concrete slabs.

At its meeting last week, the Johnston County Planning Board backed Bizzell Church Solar 1 and Bizzell Church Solar 2. The board recommended commissioners deny Bizzell Church Solar 3, which is close to a neighborhood.

Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif., would operate the cluster of solar farms. Each would include a 5 megawatt photovoltaic array that would cost about $13 million to install, according to documents filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission.

The company plans produce about 9.4 million kilowatt hours of power at each farm during the first year and sell the electricity to Duke Energy. In its application, the company said it plans to produce certificates eligible for the state’s Renewable Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires public utilities to have 6 percent of their sales come from energy-efficient sources by 2015.

Bizzell, who said she has lived on the land for 45 years, told the Planning Board that she doesn’t want to upset her neighbors and has tried hard to hold onto her land. She said she had researched everything she could about solar arrays.

“What I have been able to find out about this, it’s about the safest thing that could be put there and less traffic,” Bizzell said.

Today, land near the intersection is mostly flat and undeveloped. Some homes line the roadway, and several owners use their land for farming.

Tom Bone said scenic views of open land, trees and wildlife are a large reason he and his neighbors live in the country. The proposed solar arrays, including one that would go about 200 feet from his house, would change things.

From a real estate standpoint, Bone said, he’s worried about his property’s value decreasing.

“If they are looking to buy country, they aren’t going to buy country with a solar farm in my backyard,” Bone said.

A Raleigh appraiser, Tom Hester, told said the Planning Board he studied property values of homes next to existing solar farms in neighborhoods similar to the one near Micro. Hester said he saw no difference in the selling prices of homes next to or farther away from the solar displays.

“My conclusion is this proposed use would not have any impact,” Hester said.

Lawrence Phillips, who lives near one of the displays, said it was wrong to say the project wouldn’t negatively affect neighbors. In actuality, he said, the higher cost of solar compared to other forms of energy would affect all citizens.

“When the energy is sold back to the power company, it’s coming back to everyone in higher bills,” Phillips said.

Pine Gate Holdings LLC, a Florida-based entity owned by Cypress Creek Renewables, would lease Bizzell’s land for up to 30 years, according to the state documents.

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