Johnston County Commissioners have signed off on the second half of what will be the county’s largest solar farm.
Combined with the first array, which the board approved last month, the farm will cover 103 acres near the intersection of Bizzell Grove Church and Hinnant-Edgerton roads south of Micro.
The developer, Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif., had originally planned to place a third array on 20 acres across the road from the larger arrays. But the company scrapped that plan after hearing opposition from the county planning board and its staff, which noted the land was sandwiched between two residential subdivisions.
The company will still honor its contract to purchase all of the land, and it might lease the 20 acres for farm use, said Brett Hanna, a Raleigh attorney representing the business.
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Based on his experience with other solar farms, county Planning Director Berry Gray said it could be six months before construction begins.
Having lived on the land for 40 years, Edith Bizzell said she did not want to sell but needed the income.
Bizzell said she grew up without electricity, and it took her a while to get used to the idea of a solar farm. But she eventually came to see it as the safest option for the land. For one thing, she said, the power plant will generate far less traffic than a subdivision or commercial development.
“I don’t want to do anything to harm my friends and neighbors,” Bizzell said. “We could have all sorts of things back there, but I still think this is the safest way to go.”
Cypress Creek Renewables met with neighbors and made adjustments to its site plan based on their concerns, Hanna said. Among other things, the company added more landscaping to help hide the arrays, the attorney said.
Tom Bone, who lives a few hundred feet from the Bizzell land, was the only neighbor who spoke at the public hearing. About 30 people came out to oppose the project at earlier meetings, but everyone else seemed to have accepted defeat, Bone said.
While the company’s changes are good, Bone said he’s still worried that his property’s value will fall and the temperature in his yard will rise. But most of all, Bone said, no amount of trees and bushes will mask the view of a solar farm from his back porch.
“It’s still going to be visible,” he said. “I bought my property to live in the country and not overlook an industrial complex – a bunch of mirrors and steel.”
A second farm
After taking 50 minutes to consider the solar farm on Bizzell Grove Church Road, commissioners approved another solar farm with little discussion and in one-fifth of the time. The key difference, Gray said, was that no neighbors had objected to the project.
The developer, ESA Renewables of Orlando, Fla., plans to place solar panels on 32 acres at 2072 Old Rock Quarry Road north of Princeton. The landowners, James and Sherry Worley, also own many of the adjoining properties, which helped them avoid opposition.
The board also approved rezoning and conditional-use permits for:
▪ James Corbett to operate a sand mine at 5887 Devil’s Racetrack Road in southern Johnston. Corbett plans to dig a four-acre pond on a 75-acre farm owned by Christopher and Tammie Barbour. The rezoning will allow him to sell the excavated soil over the course of three to five years.
▪ Michael Blackmon to operate a small automotive towing, storage and sales lot at 4000 N.C. 242 near Benson. Law enforcement agencies call on Blackmon to haul away and store disabled and wrecked vehicles that are awaiting insurance adjustment.