Community meeting

Company proposes major solar project in Gold Hill to host community meeting – Salisbury Post

GOLD HILL – A company planning a major solar farm in rural southeast Rowan County will hold a meeting about the potential project today at 6 p.m. at the Russell-Rufty Memorial Shelter at 755 St. Stephens Church Road.

The meeting was organized by Renewable energy from a bird’s eye view, a Charlotte-based solar energy company that was recently acquired by Virginia-based Dominion Energy. The company plans to install a solar farm on 550 acres of land near Old Beatty Ford Road and US 52, across from Goldhill Airpark.

Since its launch in 2009, Birdseye has covered nearly 3,000 acres of solar arrays and completed 44 large-scale solar energy projects in North Carolina and the Southeast, according to the company’s website.

The company submitted an application for the project to Rowan County’s planning department earlier this week, but the application has not yet been assessed by county staff and likely won’t be presented to the planning board until July. All solar projects must first go through the Rowan County Planning Board before finally being approved by the Board of Commissioners.

Birdseye said plans for the project go back several years. Brian Bednar, the company’s founder and CEO, spoke to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in March at a public hearing regarding proposed updates to the county’s solar power rules. A moratorium was imposed on new applications in the fall of 2019 after Rowan County residents turned down a large solar project in western Rowan County.

At the time, Bednar encouraged commissioners not to approve any rules prohibiting systems larger than 50 acres in certain zoning districts because it would prevent his company from moving forward with the Gold Hill project. He said the company had been working on the project for two years.

Commissioners adopted the updated rules and recommendations at the beginning of April and did not set a strict limit on the acres allowed. Instead, the new rules state that a “maximum system area of ​​50 acres is preferred, but may be increased based on the site’s ability to meet all other recommendations contained herein.”

“These new rules are going to be tested when this thing happens,” commissioner Craig Pierce said.

Vivian Hopkins, who lives on land near the 550-acre property for the proposed project, said she received an invitation to the meeting in the mail just over a week ago. Hopkins was one of about 70 locals to receive the letter, said Birdseye development director Landon Abernathy.

“What we will typically do is invite all of our buffered and adjacent neighbors and make sure anyone who would be impacted by the project gets an invite,” Abernathy said.

The letter states, “We are excited to work with your community and bring this quiet, passive, low-traffic neighbor to your area.” In the letter, the company also pledges to preserve existing trees and vegetation and to provide “sufficient distance and visual protection from your properties”.

Hopkins, vice president of the Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation, said she has already met with other local residents to talk about the proposed solar site. Hopkins said she and others have concerns, particularly about its impact on the environment, the nearby airpark and the community’s tourism industry.

“A solar farm is not what you want to see in an area historically designed for tourism,” Hopkins said.

These concerns are shared by Darius Hedrick, a longtime Gold Hill resident who owns property in the historic part of the community.

“The solar projects, in my opinion as a conservator, are contrary to what we have been trying to do in East Rowan and particularly in the village area trying to save Gold Hill from Mother Nature and recognize the historical significance of the area”, Hedrick mentioned. “We just don’t think it’s compatible with solar power projects.”

Abernathy said he hopes the meeting gives the company an opportunity to address concerns and work with locals on the project.

“It’s an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves and let people in this direct area know what we’re planning and what we have in mind and open up a dialogue,” Abernathy said.

Pierce said he was aware of the meeting, but would not attend. Pierce said he encouraged any citizens with questions or comments about the project to contact him and promised to hear both sides of the arguments regarding the solar farm.

Meeting space in the shelter is limited.