FOLEY – A former turf farm could become a solar generating site under a plan proposed for the 619-acre site in Foley.

The Foley Planning Commission voted Wednesday, April 19 to recommend a proposal to designate the site as a planned industrial district. The PID designation would allow the land to be used as a solar farm.

The property is west of Baldwin County 65 and south of Baldwin County 26. The proposal now goes to the Foley City Council for approval.

Turf Properties owns the land. Miriam Boone, Foley city planner, said project plans call for a 250-foot buffer zone between the panels and surrounding property. Fences, trees and other landscaping would also block the view 

At a work session discussion of the project, Mayor Ralph Hellmich said the facility would be a benefit to the community without creating more burdens on schools or roads.

“There’s going to be no impact on the schools, yet they’re going to get about $800,000 a year in taxes,” Hellmich said. “They will have their property abated for 10 years and then they’ll pay taxes. The construction will take about a year and a half. It won’t tear the roads up.The trucks are not heavy because they’re carrying panels that are not heavy.”

At the commission meeting, some residents asked about the effect of the project on their property. Questions included how much of the facility would be visible from beyond the property line and how that might affect neighboring land values.

Andrew Boggs, vice president for Hecate Energy, the company developing the project, said the landscaping and fencing should protect the views from neighboring property. He said a solar farm will have less impact on neighboring land and property values than other potential uses.

“Of all the industrial items that could go next to you, a solar farm that’s maintaining the grass to stop erosion, with pollinators and everything else, is not the worst industrial use,” Boggs said. “Everything’s quiet, very little traffic and we have a history of working with our neighbors.”

Residents also asked about the impact of hurricanes on the facility and whether debris from damaged solar panels could hit their homes.

Boggs said Hecate operates solar farms in many areas that have been hit by major hurricanes. The panels have not caused any damage to other property.

“In heavy winds, hurricanes and things like that, the solar farm automatically goes into storm mode, which turns the solar panels flat like a wing, so the wind just goes over them,” Boggs said. “We haven’t had a hurricane problem in 10 years and we have solar farms all over the country. They’ve been hit, but there’s never been a fly-off of a module.”

Project developers said they have not determined how many panels would be on the property, but plans call for the entire 619-acre property to be used except the buffer, drainage areas and access routes.

Officials and developers said the panels would not create problems due to glare or other issues.

“These parks are basically all over the United States and there have been no issues,” Hellmich said. “Some of them are actually at airports and they have not caused glare issues. If you look at ours on 59, they’re not reflective. They’re poly acrylic coating, but the color of the actual solar panels is darker, so they’re really not reflective at all.”

Electricity generated on the site would be sold to Alabama Power. Alabama Power sells electricity to local utility companies, such as Riviera Utilities. Boggs said the farm would not require new transmission lines.

“All this power will be sold to Alabama Power. This all goes back into your rates. Foley is going to benefit as fossil fuels become more of an issue,” Bogg said. “This is your most southern substation in the state and it’s very important to Alabama Power that we have more generation. You’re growing. You’re a bustling community.”

Boggs said the farm could operate for 25 to 40 years before the solar panels would need replacement. If the panels are not replaced, the material could be recycled and the property used for other purposes.