HAMLET — City Council members Tuesday approved the building of a 25-acre solar farm at the eastern edge of town and an exception to city ordinance that will allow Richmond Community College to install one solar panel for classroom instruction.
It also opened council procedings to figurative “sunshine,” streaming its first meeting live on Facebook, via a cellphone propped up in a letter holder.
“Overall, it’s a win-win,” said Yan Solihin, a computer-engineering professor at N.C. State University, principal of Greentegrity LLC and the owner of former farmland he wants to lease for solar-power generation.
Solihin has spent the past three-plus months running the gauntlet of zoning ordinances and council meetings in order to win approval for the development, which will take up a sliver of a defunct dairy farm.
On Tuesday, the measure passed 5-0 after attorney Brett Hanna handed council members an inch-thick document guaranteeing that the solar farm would come no closer to any residence or other entity than 120 feet, would operate safely and would be disposed of efficiently when it came to the end of its life.
Hanna, of Nelson Mullins law firm out of Raleigh, represented Solihin and ESA Renewables of Sanford, Florida, which will lease the land and build the farm. Construction should begin within four months, company representatives said.
ESA operates about 30 solar farms in North Carolina.
“We’re glad to have final zoning approval,” Hanna said. “We look forward to bringing the project online and being good neighbors” in Hamlet.
The “farm” would generate 5 megawatts of power yearly, selling it to Duke Energy if the N.C. Utlitiles Commission approves.
In a second 5-0 vote, council members granted a zoning variance to RCC to allow it to build a solar panel to facilitate earth sciences instruction at Richmond Early College High School, which holds its classes on campus.
Hamlet ordinance forbids the building of such backyard panels, in order to make sure they don’t pop up just anywhere and not atop approved structures.
But council members voted to allow the exception for RCC, and not to charge it the typical $150 fee to apply for a variance ordinance.
REaCH secured a $28,000 grant from the nonprofit environmental organization NC GreenPower, to build an elevated solar panel so students may learn about how the angles of sunshine vary throughout the year, said RCC Executive Vice President Brent Barbee. Any excess power will be channeled into a bank of direct-current batteries for the college’s substation training program, he said.
As for the live Facebook streaming … It appeared to be a success, cheered online by City Council junkies who watched in real time, not having to wait to watch YouTube or a public-access channel.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]