Thursday, September 20, 2012

Selma to Welcome Solar Power from ESA Renewables

The Selma Town Council has cleared the way for construction of the town’s first solar farm.
Solar panels at an ESA Renewables facility in Fuquay-Varina

The council voted unanimously last week to add solar farms to the list of allowed uses in two zoning categories – industrial and residential-agricultural.

The change to the town’s land-use rules comes in response to a request from a Florida-based energy company, ESA Renewables. It plans to build a seven-acre solar farm on Ricks Road between the U.S. 70 and U.S. 301. The company will have to present a more detailed plan to the Town Council at its meeting in October.

The company operates more than 500 power-generating plants worldwide, according to its website. It has already built a rooftop solar-panel array in Fuquay-Varina and has plans for one in central Raleigh.

Selma planning director Ryan Simons said ESA will have to submit a plan for buffering the solar panels so they don’t become an eyesore. The company must also explain how the farm will tie into the town’s power grid. Simons wants to make sure the farm would not interfere with existing power service or become an expense to Selma.

“Before any construction begins, they have to give us an interconnectivity plan,” Simons said. “We certainly don’t want to be in a position where the town incurs any costs.”

Though ESA will likely tie into Selma’s power grid, it’s not clear if the town will be able to buy power from the solar farm. Selma is a public power town, meaning it is under contract to buy its power through ElectriCities, which is made up of N.C. towns that came together years ago to buy share of the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant.

“We’re bound by that,” Douglass said. “We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’ll get part of our power from this farm.’ ”

It’s possible, however, that businesses could turn to the solar farm at times when demand from ElectriCities is at its highest and, therefore, most expensive.

“Solar could take over during peak hours,” Douglass said. “When the regular power sources shut off, that’s when the solar energy could kick in,”

Solar farms could kick start economic growth in Selma, although town leaders are unsure how much of an impact the farms would have. “We’re obviously welcoming of green technology, and we want to be accommodating,” Simons said. “I don’t know how much area we have for it, but it’s not much.”

Douglass said having at least one farm, and using it in some way, could help bring in companies that want to use renewable energy.

Solar farm projects are popping up across the Triangle. Earlier this year, Argand Energy announced plans to build a solar farm near the Johnston County Airport. And in April, Progress Energy completed a seven-acre farm in Garner, just off of U.S. 70.


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