The solar farm will be located off U.S. Highway 70, according to the special use permit application. The site, which is approximately 53 acres, is currently owned by Carl and Helen Mace, residents of Orange County.
The site largely consists of shrubs and was cleared for timber purposes three to five years ago. The land has been used for farming since 1938 and there are several man-made ponds on the property from the 1970s and ‘80s, according to the Environmental Site Assessment.
Oakwood Solar Farm, LLC, is owned by ESA Renewables, an alternative energy provider.
Michael Harvey, planning supervisor for Orange County, said ESA approached the county in Nov. 2015 to discuss the review process for the project.
Harvey said it is unclear when construction will actually begin because Oakwood Solar Farm still needs to send in documents to various agencies to obtain construction permits.
“I think construction should begin in six to eight months, and it should take about 60-90 days to complete,” Harvey said. “So within a year, it should be up and running.”
Renee Price, a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said there were also talks with the county about the solar farm in March, and a neighborhood meeting took place in July.
Price said she is in favor of solar energy projects for Orange County and believes in the environmental benefits of the project.
“We are not in a situation, throughout the county, where we can do wind farms,” Price said. “But to harness the energy of the sun is a benefit to our environment.”
Price said any project involves trade-offs.
“Instead of farmland, we now have a solar array, instead of producing vegetables or what have you,” she said.
Solar panels are something people have to adjust to visually, Price said.
“We are accustomed to seeing (telephone wires), to the extent that people don’t even see it anymore,” she said. “A lot of people are having issues with seeing (solar panels).”
“We do our best to provide clean vegetation landscaping to screen out the farm,” she said.
Greg Gangi, a professor of environmental science and associate director for education at the UNC Institute for the Environment, said the solar farm will contribute to the Orange County tax base.
“(The solar farm) is certainly good for the landowner and it will play a role in helping to green the grid (every little bit helps),” Gangi said in an email.
Bernadette Pelissier, another member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said she not only supports solar energy as a clean alternative to oil, gas and coal, but as an economic benefit to Orange County.
“Solar energy, in the long run, makes energy cheaper,” Pelissier said.
“This lowers the cost of living for people in the county.”