Smithfield Herald

Company planning solar farm near Wake-Johnston line

Clayton leaders must decide whether to allow a solar farm on this land on Guy Road.
Clayton leaders must decide whether to allow a solar farm on this land on Guy Road.

An Arizona company hopes to build a solar farm on 31 acres of farmland near the Wake-Johnston county line.

Sunlight Partners is seeking approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission and the Town of Clayton to build a 4-megawatt photovoltaic array at 2780 Guy Road.

In an application filed last year with the state, the Mesa, Ariz., company said it would sell the array’s output – about 6.87 million kilowatt hours annually – to Duke Energy.

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 power come from renewable sources.

Keith Colson, vice president of Sunlight Partners, said the company doesn’t comment on solar-farm projects that are in the early stages of development. The Guy Road landowner, Albert Lee Newsome, did not return a call seeking comment.

In its state filing, the company said the solar farm would have four 1-megawatt arrays and three 1,500-kilowatt inverters and would connect to an existing electricity-distribution line on the property. The application, filed March 2014, shows the farm will cost about $11 million.

Under the Utilities Commission’s review process, other state agencies review solar-farm proposals and offer comments. For the Clayton project, state Department of Transportation engineers want Sunlight Partners to consider contributing to the widening of Guy Road. The widening would likely occur as part of a larger road project from the Wake County line to N.C. 42 East, but that project is not included in the DOT’s current transportation-improvement program. It is part of a long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

In addition, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources noted in its review of the proposal that the historic W.A. Gowers House is just north of the property. The house is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and has been placed on the state study list.

Sunlight Partners says the Gowers House is not part of the solar farm’s site plan.

The solar farm would have a fence surrounding the array and landscape buffers that would shield it from view, according to the company’s request for a special-use permit from the Town of Clayton. Town planner Jay McLeod said the landscaping will be 12 feet high, or the same height of the solar arrays at their highest point.

Because of the buffer, Sunlight Partners says, the project won’t affect the value of nearby properties. That’s one of four findings of fact the company must prove to get the town’s approval.

The land on Guy Road, while outside of the town limits, is within Clayton’s planning jurisdiction.

As part of a year-ago update to the town’s Unified Development Code, Clayton leaders agreed to allow solar farms on land zoned for residential use. Solar arrays were already allowed in industrial zones.

“We didn’t want solar farms rezoning residential estate properties to industrial,” DeYoung said of the change. “That would not have been a good marriage depending on location. It would have been spot-zoning.”

The land on Guy Road is zoned for residential use.

Clayton’s Planning Board is expected to discuss the solar farm at its meeting on Jan. 26.

One of many

The Clayton-area solar farm proposal is one of many across across Johnston County.

Late last year, Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif., unveiled its plans to build what could be the largest solar farm in the county, a three-part array spread over 130 acres near Micro. In the past year, companies have sought state approval to build at least 17 solar farms in Johnston.

The state law requiring utilities to use solar power helps explains the increase in farms across the county. Also, companies are rushing to build projects before a North Carolina tax-credit program expires at the end of this year.