In NC, new solar farms can land too close to home

In NC, new solar farms can land too close to home

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by JEREMY MARKOVICH / NBC Charlotte

WCNC.com

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 5:41 PM

Updated Thursday, May 8 at 8:04 PM

MAIDEN, N.C. – Four years ago, the view from Deborah Myatt’s driveway changed.

“We had farmland and farm silos and those things,” she says, pointing across Startown Road in Maiden. “Now, this is what you see. A berm, and trees on top.”

That berm keeps a huge solar farm out of view. In 2010, Apple started building a data center in Maiden, one meant to power apps and its iCloud. Shortly after, the company broke ground on a solar farm that, along with biogas fuel cells, creates enough electricity to power about 14,000 homes a year. The farm, now the largest privately owned solar facility in the United States, now stretches over 100 acres on either side of Startown Road, just off of Highway 321 in Catawba County.

Solar is heating up in North Carolina. On Tuesday, Salisbury City Council approved a 37-acre farm with 20,000 panels on it at Highway 150 and Sherrills Ford Road. The company building it, Strata Solar of Chapel Hill, says it'll be mostly hidden behind a fence and pine trees. The company has built 50 farms already, and it starts construction on a new farm nearly every week.

But finding a location that makes everybody happy has been problematic at times. Strata had a similar project in Lincoln County shot down in December, when neighbors complained that it was too close to their houses and could hurt property values.

NBC Charlotte wanted to find out what it’s like to live near a solar farm, so we came to Maiden and found Deborah Myatt. Living across the street is challenging, she says. During construction, the burning of cleared trees led to a lot of smoke, it was hard to contact Apple to find out details about the project, and the water runoff from the site continues to this day, she says. And then there’s the noise – not from solar panels, but from the highway nearby.

“I can hear 321 from here,” she says. “I couldn’t hear it before. The woods absorbed a lot of that.”

The folks who helped recruit Apple see things differently.

“From my point of view, a solar farm would be a great neighbor,” says Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. “It never makes noise. It's never going to have lots of traffic.”

Millar says there were problems with traffic, smoke and runoff during the construction of Apple's solar farm. Now, he says, it basically acts like the farm fields it replaced. No jobs were created, but there aren't any new costs, like water, sewer or schools.

“Anytime a neighborhood changes, there's going to be people somewhat uncomfortable with what's going on because it's different,” says Millar.

Back in Maiden, Deborah Myatt says she doesn't know if the farm has affected her property value-- just her view.

“The reason why I bought this property, a lot of that is gone,” she says. In its place are thousands of solar panels that can power thousands of homes, but aren't making people happy at the houses nearby."

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