What's in county's solar ordinance?

Commissioners to meet Friday to discuss passage
Oct. 31, 2013 @ 04:26 AM

After 90 days of meeting, planning, conversing and exploring, the Rutherford County Planning Commission has drafted a solar resolution.

Rutherford County commissioners heard the proposal during a special meeting Tuesday but were unable to pass the measure due to the absence of commissioner Greg Lovelace.

State statute requires passage of an ordinance to be unanimous by the full board on first consideration. Commissioners have called a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday to decide the fate of the ordinance on its second consideration — which does not require the full board.

The ordinance is based on a template ordinance provided by the state with some language intwined for local effect, according to Planning Commission chairman Ron Harrill.

The end result is a three-page ordinance that spells out various regulations regarding solar farm placement.

"I think every board member is pro-solar and pro-green energy," Harrill said. "After looking at all these programs, one thing we wanted to do is make our's short, to the point and simple and I think that's what we've done."

After three drafts of the ordinance, the Planning Commission and county staff came to a consensus regarding the definitions of a solar farm and what kinds of farms would be regulated under the ordinance.

Harrill was quick to point out the ordinance does not relate to solar panels being placed on residential or commercial business roofs. It only applies to utility ground-mounted farms between 6-400 acres in size.

"If people want to put collectors on their roof to save money, I don't blame them," Harrill said. "I would too."

The first step in the ordinance was the creation of a permitting process. The ordinance states a building/electrical permit is required for all solar farms covered. That includes an engineered site plan and compliance with UL 1703 material regulations.

There are also setback and screening requirements. There is a minimum setback of 50 feet from all property boundaries and power inverters or other "sound producing equipment" can be no less than 150' from any dwelling. All farms will be required to be enclosed with a minimum of 6' high chain link fencing or security fencing and farms will be required to have evergreen vegetative screening no less than 15' high.

"We want to make sure solar farms can come just with a few conditions that will enhance public health and safety," said Danny Searcy, Rutherford County planner.

The ordinance includes a decommissioning clause for proper closure of a solar farm.

"All the developers develop the way they do is so they can turn the land back to its original use upon decommissioning," Searcy said.

Harrill said the county has received "multiple" inquiries for solar farm development and the sizes of those farms range from 40 to 400 acres. He said those inquiries prompted discussion amongst the Planning Commission about solar farm regulations.

Additionally, the state has become one of the nation's top solar producing states. Harrill said North Carolina has 501 solar companies, employing 2,000 people. The state is sixth in the nation with 229 megawatts (mW) of installed capacity and fifth in annual capacity with 132 mW in 2012.

County commissioners gave a favorable response to the proposal despite not being able to pass it on first consideration.

"I feel like this is a good start," said Julius Owens, County Commission chairman.