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County approves solar farm project expansion

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NASHVILLE — A 20-megawatt solar farm first approved in 2013 on the eastern side of Spring Hope, but never built, will become part of a larger 46.8-megawatt solar farm approved by Nash County commissioners on Monday.

The 262.5-acre project on North Old Franklin Road, named East Nash PV1, will be owned, built and operated by Ecoplexus, Inc., based in Research Triangle Park. Ecoplexus has built and financed more than 80 projects, but this will be its first solar farm in Nash County, company representatives said.

The county granted a conditional-use permit for 183 acres of the proposed farm within its jurisdiction after a required public hearing in which no property owner objected. The property, consisting of two separate and independently leased tracts, will be added to the originally planned solar farm to the south, within Spring Hope’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Spring Hope approved a special-use permit for the farm in November 2013, and renewed it in April 2019.

Ecoplexus will sell the power the farm generates to Duke Energy Progress. The facility will include fenced areas containing rows of ground-mounted solar panel arrays that slowly tilt throughout the day to track the movement of the sun. The farm will include natural mandatory and elective vegetative screening.

The county’s portion of the farm received approval of the technical review committee and the county planning board.

Two other items related to solar farms were approved Monday. One was a text amendment to the unified development ordinance that eases setback requirements for solar farms covering more than one tract of property leased from different owners. The change allows the developer to place the solar panel arrays more uniformly within the farm without gaps.

In another action, commissioners voted to amend the conditional-use permit for the gigantic 692-acre Phobos Solar farm on South Frazier Road near Middlesex, not yet constructed, to add an additional 24 acres necessary for the company to erect enough solar panel arrays to generate the projected 80 megawatts of power. The amendment request did not have any opposition.

In other business Monday, commissioners approved a $10,000 grant to Premier Propane and Hardware in Middlesex through the county’s Retail and Small Business Incentive Grant Program.

Applicants Derek Bissette and Zack Stallings are currently constructing the business at the intersection of N.C. 231 and U.S. 264 Business in the heart of Middlesex. Retail developer Susan Phelps said Premier will sell propane to commercial and residential customers as well as have a storefront with general hardware supplies and merchandise. They plan to employ five full-time and two part-time employees.

In order to build the store, Phelps said, the applicants had to relocate a town sewer line that ran through the center of the property. The grant is to help with the costs of relocating the line.

Before commissioners gave their unanimous approval to the grant, Middlesex Mayor Lu Harvey Lewis told the board, “This is a big deal for the town of Middlesex. It is the first big retail development since 2008. It will provide a definite need and service for the citizens of the county as well as provide jobs. I think it’s a great asset for the county and retail.”

In another action affecting southern Nash County, commissioners approved a request by the town of Bailey for the county to assume the billing and collecting of town ad valorem property taxes for a 2% fee to cover the costs of the service.

“The single billing is more efficient and we would be glad to extend this service to any other interested towns,” said Doris Sumner, acting tax administrator.

Commissioners also granted a similar request by the town of Whitakers. The county already contracts to collect the taxes for the towns of Sharpsburg, Castalia, Momeyer and Middlesex.