LAURINBURG — The Laurinburg City Council gave tentative approval on Thursday to a moratorium on any new solar farms in the city.
The moratorium would place a temporary ban on the development of new photovoltaic solar array facilities within the city limits and the one-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction of Laurinburg.
The unanimous vote came during a brief public hearing where no one spoke. Council members J.D. Willis and Drew Williams did not attend the meeting.
City Attorney William Floyd said the matter would require a second vote by council on Sept. 20 before the 60-day moratorium could begin.
Laurinburg officials said they want the moratorium in place while zoning officials consider amending the city’s Unified Development Ordinance on where solar farms can be placed.
“The restrictions really have to do with the location and the possible clustering of solar farms within the city and with particular interest in the corridors when entering and exiting the city limits,” Floyd said. “Council had expressed concerns about having too many clustered along those entrance areas as an aesthetic problem for the city.”
Mac McInnis, the city’s planning and zoning officer, agreed that Laurinburg was not trying to ban solar farming altogether.
“My understanding was the problem was not so much solar farm development, but where they were going to put them in relation to others ones and the corridors,” he said.
Some of the regulation changes were approved by the Laurinburg Planning Board Wednesday night. The council is expected to discuss the proposed changes in depth at its October meeting.
Council member Curtis Leak asked city staff to advise county zoning officials of the moratorium “as a courtesy.”
“We just want to make sure that they are informed,” Leak said.
The ban is not expected to affect Strata Solar Development plans to place a ground mounted solar array on nearly 90 acres of land near the U.S. 15 – 401/501 bypass that was approved by council last month. But the moratorium may put a temporary hold on proposals for two additional farms that Strata Solar is considering in the city, officials said.
Council member Dee Hammond said the city decided to consider new regulations for solar farms after hearing residents objections to the Strata project at the bypass. Several adjacent landowners complained that the project would be an unsightly
“These solar panels are unsightly,” said Molly Flowers, who lives near the new solar farm. “Why in the world would anyone allow a solar farm to be placed within the one-mile jurisdiction, along the major highway, throughout our city while I cannot place a well-maintained mobile home on my property, if I wanted to?
North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. for solar energy capacity after a huge number of installations last year, an industry report says.
State tax credits for 35 percent of their cost expired at the end of 2015, but Congress extended 30 percent federal tax credits for solar projects through 2019. The credits will be gradually reduced over the following three years.
The federal government projects that renewable energy, which includes solar, wind and hydroelectric plants, will generate 23 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2025 compared to 13 percent in 2015.