Nash board OKs largest solar farm


Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

NASHVILLE — What is going to be the largest solar farm in Nash County was approved Monday by the Nash County Board of Commissioners after extensive questioning about the noise level.

In the end, the board unanimously granted a conditional use permit to Phobos Solar to build an 80-megawatt facility at a 692-acre site northeast of the Samaria community, between Middlesex and Spring Hope.

The solar farm is going to be on the east side of N.C. 231, the south side of Frazier Road and both sides of parts of Prophecy, Old Nash and Valley roads. The electricity generated at the site is going to be sold to Duke Energy Progress.

The Nash County Technical Review Committee on June 28 recommended approval of Phobos Solar’s proposal. The Nash County Planning Board followed on July 15 by approving the proposal, with Phobos Solar agreeing to three revisions.

Phobos Solar agreed to a request by the owner of an adjacent home off Valley Road to move the proposed array of panels, the proposed inverter and the proposed access road farther from the house.

An inverter converts the electricity solar panels create into a form to be used for appliances, lighting and other electronics in a home.

Phobos Solar also agreed to allow a 30-foot wide access route along an existing path through the site so a land-locked property owner could have continued access.

And Phobos Solar agreed to limit the noise generated from the solar farm equipment to no more than 75 decibels as measured at the exterior property line.

Prior to the board’s vote, the decibel level was discussed at length, with Commissioner Wayne Outlaw seeking clarity and seeking to get a feel for the exposure.

Planning Director Adam Tyson said when a solar farm is generating energy there is a certain amount of noise generated by the equipment. Tyson made clear he believes placing equipment in the middle of the Phobos Solar site hopefully is going to mitigate this somewhat.

Outlaw wanted to know from Tyson how the county plans to monitor the decibel levels.

Tyson said the subject was discussed at the planning board meeting. Tyson said to his knowledge, the county does not have the technology to measure the decibel levels.

So he said for now, a complaining person is going to have to demonstrate to the county the decibel level is higher than allowed and the county then could take enforcement action.

Attorney Brett Hanna, of Raleigh and representing Phobos Solar, told the commissioners the neighbors had detected some sound from inverters from other solar farms were making more noise than manufacturer specifications.

Hanna said his client agreed to move the proposed inverters to more internal positions at the site and to a decibel level proposed by the planning board.

Experts addressed the commissioners on behalf of Phobos Solar.

Corey Howell, an engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates of Raleigh, told the commissioners he and Phobos Solar believe the maximum decibel level should be anywhere from approximately 45-50 decibels at any adjacent homes.

One of the questions from the board was if Phobos Solar would feel comfortable committing to a limit lower than 75 decibels.

The Phobos Solar experts, after conferring briefly with each other, said yes and agreed to a limit of 65 at the property line.

However, Cullen Morris, who is the project manager, pulled out his cell phone for the commissioners and said an app showed a reading of 62.

Morris told the commissioners if he stops speaking and there is little sound in the commission meeting room, the reading on his cell phone is 50.

Morris went on to state there can be sound in rural setting based on wind, on the leaves on trees or the birds.

He told the commissioners a person can stand anywhere at the fence at the Phobos Solar site with some type of noise reading equipment and see a reading of 65 decibels at the boundary due to road noise or anything else.

As a result, he said, it may be difficult at times to tell what is causing that decibel level to reach a certain point.

Board Chairman Robbie Davis said he is concerned this was being carried maybe a tad bit too far and successfully called for the decibel level to be kept at 75.

Specifically, Davis said he is concerned because the board has always been in favor of solar panels and said he personally does not want to put any unnecessary restrictions in place.

Davis also made clear he does not like to get into the business of changing anything the planning board brings the board, if the county is not accomplishing anything in this case.

No one spoke against the proposal.