A Rowland resident stood before the Robeson County Planning Board on Monday and urged it to reject a conditional-use permit that is needed to place a solar farm just outside of the town.
He argued that the land was some of the most fertile in Robeson County, and it should be producing crops, not catching sun rays to convert into electricity. His is a sentiment that is shared by town officials, who dispatched the mayor to express the opposition of the town board.
Mayor Elizabeth Hunt dropped this gem on the Planning Board members, and it’s worth repeating; “Rowland is a town of a thousand friends. When we say howdy to a solar panel, it doesn’t say howdy back.”
In the end, the Planning Board, as would be expected, tossed this ball over to the county Board of Commissioners, which will make the final decision, most likely at its first meeting in April.
Solar farms are popping up across the county — like crops once did. Unfortunately, too many acres in the state’s largest county no longer are farmed, especially on land once covered by tobacco.
So companies such as Carolina Solar Energy in Durham are looking fondly toward our county, which has a lot of land but too few jobs. According to the company, it would install 26,000 solar panels on 45 acres of a 64-acre tract of land near Rowland that would produce for sale 9,289,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year, enough to power up to 800 homes over that time.
The company said it would build a 6-foot-tall fence around the farm so that the panels, which some might label an eyesore, would not be obvious, and install a locked gate and security cameras. The jobs that the project would create would be low paying, without benefits and temporary, but they would be welcomed by local laborers who have been idled by the economy.
The largest benefit locally would be the property taxes the company would pay — obviously to the county, but to Rowland as well if the land were ever annexed.
This is a conversation that will be had more frequently locally as the green-energy alternative becomes more popular, and they ensure the age-old argument of progress, yes, but at what expense? Everyone should recognize that while solar farms have wonderful benefits, they don’t exactly melt into the landscape.
Walter Hodge, the Rowland resident who spoke to the commissioners, said he has assurances from two county commissioners that they would vote against the conditional-use permit, but five votes are needed to deny the necessary permit. We only hope that merit — and not local politics — guides the commissioners when they make their decision, but we doubt that many people have confidence that will happen.