A three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously reversed a Superior Court ruling supporting Currituck County’s authority to block a solar farm.
The ruling clears the way for property owner Currituck Sunshine Farm and solar developer Ecoplexus to pursue plans to build a 20 megawatt solar facility, to be operated by Fresh Air Energy II, LLC. The N.C. Utilities Commission must approve the project.
The Court of Appeals has sided with solar developers and against the county commissions in similar cases for projects in Robeson and Lincoln counties.
The site for the proposed Currituck project is the former Goose Creek Golf Course on Caratoke Highway in the Grandy community. Nearby residents argued the project wasn’t compatible with neighboring residential lots. The county planning board initially approved the project, but the county commissioners sided with the local opposition and denied a permit after an April 2016 hearing.
The three solar entities appealed the county’s decision to Superior Court. Judge Jerry Tillett heard the case in December 2016 and entered a decision in March 2017 affirming the county commission’s decision to deny a permit. The solar entities appealed, and the appeals court heard the case in November. The court sided with the solar companies.
“Petitioners presented a prima facie showing of entitlement to their use permit to construct a solar energy farm in a zoning district where such a facility is a permitted use,” Judge John Tyson wrote for the panel. “The Board’s denial of the application was not based on competent, material, and substantial evidence to rebut Petitioners’ prima facie showing.”
Currituck County has two large completed solar projects, but concerns led the commission in February to issue a ban on new projects. The resolution declaring a ban stated the commission wanted to prevent “incompatible solar array projects from being established that could adversely impact the quality of life for county residents,” and promote the “conservation of farmland.” The ban does not affect this project.