Flap over solar an easy fix

Aug. 18, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

During its meeting on Aug. 5, the Rutherford County Commission upended a request by the Planning Commission to issue a nine-month moratorium on solar farm development.

Instead, county commissioners gave the Planning Commission 90 days to develop regulations for future solar farms in the county.

Publicly, the development of solar farms has drawn both positives and negatives but the fact remains no regulations are in place for the county to deal with the development.

But, after some research by our top-notch staff, which took all of about an evening, it was simple to find similar regulations which could be applied to Rutherford County.

We were able to find statutory authority for counties like Rutherford that don't have county-wide zoning which entails nothing more than adopting regulations under the general ordinance-making authority.

A purpose statement and definition of a solar farm can be easily gleaned from basic website searches and still conform to the rules and regulations of the county and state.

Site requirements are another easily obtained piece of information.

Panels can be restricted to a height of 15-25 feet and setbacks can generally be 100 feet on front from public roads and 50 feet from side and rear property lines.

A safety fence can be 6-8 inches tall with barbed or razor wire on top along with a locked gate with access for emergency personnel. A evergreen vegetation buffer planted on the outside of the fence capable of reaching the height of the fence in three years and providing at least 75 percent blocked view is attainable and a restriction that no solar farm can be located in a floodplain.

Administrative provisions such as enforcement being the building inspector or Planning department, permitting through inspections or Planning with no need for review by the Planning Commission because approval is not discretionary if the plan meets the requirements of the ordinance. Fees and violations can be easily gleaned from similar plans developed in Clay County.

The appeals process for any violation can be heard by the County Commission with further appeals going to Superior Court.

It is not necessary for the county to add any restrictive locational criteria such as a solar farm cannot be within a quarter-mile of a school, park or church. This would only muddy the waters and make the regulations look like zoning which, of course, they aren't. That would raise a ton of legal issues and even more public opposition.

The ordinance passed and utilized in Clay County is all of nine pages. Even it contains verbiage and redundancies that aren't necessary to produce solid regulations for Rutherford County.

This process can be done right, to the benefit of all parties and should be undertaken in an expeditious fashion.

By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board


The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Tom Padgett and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark