FRANKTON – Before Curt and Becky Harrison were married, they bought a house in northern Madison County.
Forty-four years and three grown children later, they still live in their dream home.
Today, the Harrisons find their idyllic home life disrupted by a proposed 850-acre solar farm that would butt up against their bucolic property. A portion of the Invenergy Lone Oak Solar project would loom directly north of their home.
The Harrisons have joined a large group of area residents opposed to the project.
The Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals tabled a request from Invenergy for a special exception for the project. A public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Madison County 4-H Fairgrounds in Alexandria.
Anthony Emery, president of Madison County Council, said the council will delay action on a requested tax abatement sought by Invenergy until after the Board of Zoning Appeals makes a decision on the special exception.
“We moved into this house the day after we got married in 1975,” Becky Harrison said. "It was his (Curt's) dream home."
Daughter Katy Troxell explained that her parents bought the house in an estate sale while both were still attending Frankton High School.
“It needed a lot of work,” Troxell said. “They put a lot of love into it.”
Curt Harrison, who grew up in Frankton, wanted a country home for the peace and quiet.
“It’s peaceful out here,” he noted. “I knew I could fix it up and make something out of it. I wanted to raise a family here.”
Last September at the Frankton Heritage Days Festival, Becky heard rumors about a solar farm project. Curt had heard the rumors before but hadn't said anything to his wife. He didn't want to upset her.
“I heard from someone ... that the property owner would talk to us before making a decision," Curt recounted. "But they never did.”
The parcel of farm ground to the north of the Harrisons is owned by the Richwine family, and solar panels could also be located northwest of their property.
“I’m concerned that we’re going to look out the bedroom window and see solar panels,” Becky said.
“I have spent countless hours doing research,” she continued. “Every day I learn something new. A soil professional at North Carolina State University said it will ruin the soil and will never be farmed again.”
A spokesperson for Invenergy said the project, costing a minimum of $110 million, would generate $26 million in additional property taxes and payments of $34 million to landowners whose property is leased.
Construction on the solar farm would begin this year and would be completed in 2023, according to Invenergy. The solar farm would operate for 35 years.
Applying a formula provided by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the 120 megawatt solar farm would power about 14,400 homes.
But Becky doubts the capacity of the solar farm to produce much electricity at all.
“This is more political than anything,” she said. “The government gives grants and interest-free loans to companies to put these solar farms. The energy generated is minimal.
“All it has done is drive a wedge through people in our community,” she continued. “It has split the community.”
At government meetings called to discuss the solar farm proposal, most of the feedback has come from those opposed. They argue that it would diminish property values while occupying valuable farm land.
But some property owners have already agreed to lease their land for the solar park, saying the extra revenue will help them pay bills, enjoy a higher quality of life and continue to farm the remainder of their land.
As for the Harrisons, Becky said it's not about the money. The solar farm proposal has disrupted her family.
“We care less about the money. We just want our lives back,” she said. “We’ve lived here 44 years. ... Why do we care about the money? It’s not about the money; it's fighting for our home."
Curt said for a large part of the year the fields surrounding the Harrison property have been planted in corn and soybeans, which never bothered the family.
Invenergy is proposing a setback of 100 feet from the nearest residence, which is double what Madison County requires.
“If this is approved, I hope they made the setback more than 100 feet,” he said.
Becky said that, no matter what transpires, the couple won’t sell the house where they've lived for 44 years.
Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.
About Lone Oak
Details of the proposed solar farm near Elwood:
Location: Between Madison County roads 350 and 600 West and 1000 and 1300 North
Size: 120 megawatts
Estimated cost: $110 million
Completion date: 2023
Who: Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals
What: Consider special exception request from Invenergy for Lone Oak Solar Farm
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Madison County 4-H Fairgrounds, Alexandria