Virginia company plans eastern Lincoln County solar farm

A Virginia-based solar energy developer is proposing to build and operate a 40-acre solar farm east of the four-lane N.C. 16 Bypass near unincorporated Lowesville in eastern Lincoln County.

HelioSage Energy of Charlottesville has a lease option with landowners Gary and Janet Duckworth for the farm, which would be called Freemont Solar Center, according to the developer’s application with the Lincoln County Planning and Inspections Department.

A public hearing on the developer’s request for a permit is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2 in the James W. Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St., Lincolnton.

HelioSage would operate the farm for at least 15 years, Andrew Foukal, vice president of operations for HelioSage, said in the permit application. Details of the project, such as the amount of energy it would produce, were not immediately clear, and company officials could not be reached for comment.

The site is south of the Shoppes at Waterside Crossing retail center.

Land nearest the planned solar farm is used for farming only, Kyle West, HelioSage director of project development, said in the application. Freemont Solar Center, he said, would generate no significant noise, traffic, emissions or glare.

The property is far from homes but could be screened, West said.

“The passive nature of this use fits well with this rural, agricultural and low-density residential area,” West said.

Regardless, he said in the company’s application, “there is no research proving that the value of the properties adjoining or abutting solar installations is positively or negatively impacted due to the presence of a solar installation.”

Strata Solar, the state’s largest solar company, made similar arguments for a 36-acre solar farm it wanted to build on Webbs Road at Lake Norman. In December 2013, strong public opposition prompted the Lincoln County commissioners to vote against the project. The landowners have appealed.

HelioSage Energy has developed solar energy projects in various states.

In 2011, the company was the winning bidder for Connecticut’s largest solar project. The Somers Solar Center opened in November 2013 as the largest solar facility in New England.

In September, HelioSage Energy announced the sale of a 40-megawatt solar project it helped develop in Eastern North Carolina to Duke Energy.

When commissioned, the project in Elm City, Wilson County, will be one of the largest solar facilities east of the Mississippi, HelioSage said. The facility is expected to generate about 82 million kilowatt-hours annually – enough energy to power 6,800 average North Carolina homes for a year.