Planning votes cast shadow on solar power

Published 12:25 pm Monday, September 12, 2016

On Thursday night, the Southampton County Planning Commissioners said no to two separate requests for solar farms to be established in the county.

Jack Randall, vice chairman, confirmed the action.

“They knocked it down,” he said, adding that the voting was not unanimous, but went approximately along the lines of 5-2 and 6-1, respectively, against recommending approval to the Board of Supervisors.

Randall, an attorney who is representing some of the clients in the first issue, had excused himself from the panel when the public hearing took place last month. At that time, Southampton Solar LLC gave a 1-1/2 hour-long presentation about how the county could benefit from establishing solar farms. After which, several residents in the full house had their say, most of which was negative toward the idea.

Rebecca Drake, for example, said, “Please do not change the Comprehensive Plan for sake of solar companies. They will wait a little bit longer.”

Her son, Westley Drake, said, “There are many, many ways to produce energy, but there is only way to produce food and that is to grow it from the ground. I ask the board to deny these proposals.”

In contrast, Robin and Dennis Pickeral of Merrydale Farms said they feel that if the solar farms were approved these would benefit the county. This would be in the form of electricity to the power grid, taxes to the county and clean energy.

Hugh Vincent said that he didn’t see how a small percentage of solar farms was going to hurt.

Given the hour after the hearing concluded, Planning chairman Michael Drake asked that the panel postpone both discussion and voting for the first proposal, as well as the one for GEENEX that followed.

Westley Drake who has also written in this newspaper against the solar farms as presented, said on Friday that he’s glad for voting.

“I am very pleased with the planning commissioners taking their time and being open-minded on the subject and willing to learn,” he said. “I felt that they were well-educated and made a rational decision. I think that they ultimately voted how they saw fit.

Drake continued: “They did their homework. They admitted there are still a lot of unanswered questions. At this time I think they made the right decision.”

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors next has the option to consider the matter. The board meets on Monday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. in chambers. There’s no word yet if the matter will be on the agenda for that time.