A worthy debate

Published 8:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2016

The seemingly never-ending debate over what should or should not be approved for development in Southampton County has now set its sights on solar farms.

Two proposals for solar farms currently on the table — one 1,600 acres and the other 400 acres — drew so much public comment at the public hearings held by the county’s planning commission on Thursday night that the commission’s chair announced any further discussion or vote would be put off until September.

There has been much discussion about solar in the community in recent months, and as the time has drawn nearer for the county to take action on these proposals, much of the talk has to do with the fact that many folks just can’t seem to make heads or tails over whether solar is a good thing for the county or not.

On the surface, solar farms would seem to present an obvious opportunity for increased tax revenue for the county, as a solar farm would be taxed at a much higher value than farmland used for agricultural purposes. However, taking farmland out of production would be detrimental to those who rely on the land to make a living, and would cause an actual reduction in taxes already being generated by the supplies and equipment sold locally to keep a farm running.

Solar companies are reportedly willing to pay a much higher price to landowners who lease the land upon which these solar facilities would be built. That’s obviously a good thing for the landowner, who should have the right to make as much money off of their investment as possible.

However, farmers fear that those higher lease rates would cause many more landowners to seek out the higher rent provided by solar, pricing the local farmers out of business.

There’s also the issue of landowner rights. Many have said that the landowners considering proposals from solar companies should be able to do whatever he or she would like with his or her own property. Many of these same people, however, fought vehemently to prohibit the owners of the hotly debated Camp Parkway property from doing what they wanted to with their own property.

Is it clear yet as to whether solar farms are a good thing or a bad thing for Southampton County? Not that we can tell. But there is a healthy debate that has started taking place in the community, some of it right here on this very opinion page.

We think it is a debate worth having, especially until a much clearer picture of what is best for Southampton County comes into view.