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Solar farm of 451,600 panels approved in Concord

Commissioners unanimously approved the modification to a special exception application which was filed in 2017 and revised in 2020 to add 147,600 solar panels. The modification request was denied by commissioners at their Sept. 29 meeting. According to planning and development director Brad Vaughan, there is no impact fee for a solar farm, however, there is an application fee of $50 plus $5 per linear foot of solar panels which adds up to $14.67 million. He said that fee would be a single up front payment when they install the panels but the county will also be paid around $24 million in property taxes over the lifetime of the project. ’The order from Georgia Power has increased, which has caused the request for the size and scope of the project to increase. They have included the same setbacks and restrictions from before adding them to the new areas of impact,’ said Vaughan.  ‘The number of solar panels will be increased. The total size of the project has expanded to approximately 1050 acres from 1671 acres of a parent tract of land. This includes infrastructure and vegetative buffers as well as setbacks. There is a minimum 100-foot buffer from stream banks, a 50-foot evergreen buffer as well as a 200-foot set back from the property line, no use of pesticides and no encroachment into state waters, buffers or wetlands will be permitted.’ The 145-megawatt Georgia Power solar farm will provide power to between 30,000-40,000 homes and it will be leased for 35 years.  The property has around 9,300 feet of road frontage along Highway 18, about 4,930 feet along Flat Shoals Road and around 4,000 feet along Madden Bridge Road.  There will be a removal bond required for decommission of the solar panels.  The bond will be $5,000 per acre. Orsted Solar agreed to have a third party evaluate that fee on a periodic basis at a minimum of no more than once every 5 years–this will ensure the actual cost of removal and restoration will keep up with fluctuating markets and inflation.  Russ Edwards, director of onshore projects for Orsted said they are hoping to be selling power late next year. Orsted agreed to increase the amount of setback along Highway 18, Flat Shoals Road and Madden Bridge Road to 200 feet, above the requirements of the county. They also stipulated a 150 foot setback along Curtis Rd. ’Orsted plans on being the builder and long term operator of our project. That means two things, one is that Madden Solar will benefit from world class construction and operation teams that manage projects all over the world. We intend to be a long term partner with you. We don’t intend to come in and ask for additional variances. We intend to stick to or exceed ordinance requirements,’ said Edwards. The original request that was approved in 2017 was for a 700-acre solar farm with 304,000 solar panels but the modification requested 451,600 panels on 935 acres. Storm water runoff, use of pesticides, cleaning materials for the panels, toxicity of the panels, the cost of decommissioning the solar project and noise created by inverters at the solar farm were discussed in depth, especially by those in opposition. David and Michelle Gravitt live adjacent to the property and both spoke in opposition. ’The process of inverting DC to AC with an inverter will create noise and based on my experience, that can be a high pitched, ear piercing sound at 85 decibels, equivalent to a diesel truck passing by,’ said David Gravitt. ‘There will be multiple inverters needed and those will be heard at the property lines and at homes adjacent to the solar farm. Can you imagine stepping outside your home and hearing a high pitched piercing noise that will never stop? ‘No money is worth the risk of drying up our wells – our water sources – or contaminating our water.’ Michelle Gravitt said that the amount of money paid would only equate to about the cost of a Subway sandwich per home in Pike County. ’Is it worth destroying 935 acres of forest and having a negative impact on our quality of life?’ she asked. ‘I can’t afford $15,000 to $20,000 for a water filtration system for my home. Orsted stands to make millions from this, it’s not too much to ask for water testing for citizens to be safe. We’re talking about 360 Walmarts worth of solar panels, that is how much impervious surfaces there will be that are going to pollute our ground water.’ Other Pike County residents who spoke in favor of the solar farm included Development Authority director, former county manager John Hanson and former planning and development director David Allen. ’This project meets our restrictions and the requirements we set for our county and exceeds them,’ said Hanson. ‘The revenue impact would be incredible – our SPLOST only earns about $20 million in 20 years.’

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