Commission holds decision on solar ordinance

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

While it received favorable response, the Rutherford County Commission was unable to approve a new solar regulation ordinance because of a quirk in state statutes.

During a special meeting Tuesday night, the Rutherford County Planning Commission submitted its proposal but state statute states a first consideration of a new ordinance has to be approved by the full board unanimously. 

Commissioner Greg Lovelace was excused from the meeting prior to its beginning.

It means commissioners will have to meet at 3:30 p.m. Friday to vote on a second consideration of the ordinance.

Commissioners will have their regular November meeting Monday night but the 90-day moratorium implemented by the county will expire on Sunday. Any applications submitted during the day would be exempt from the ordinance because it wouldn't be passed until the evening.

Planning Commission Chairman Ron Harrill said the intent of the new ordinance was to be simple. It was spurred by inquiries the county started to receive from developers interested in installing a solar farm in the county.

"These parcels went from 40 acres to 400 acres in size," Harrill said. "We were real excited but the more we talked about it, the more we had concerns."

After appointing a sub-committee, the Planning Commission developed a three-page draft ordinance taken from a state sample ordinance, with some minor adjustments.

Harrill said the new ordinance will not cover any residential or commercial placement of solar panels. It will only regulate solar farms between 6-400 acres in size.

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

It also includes provisions for a permitting process, 50-foot setbacks, limited screening, a height limit on the panels as well as a decommissioning plan for when the solar farm has had an end of lease or presents a potential public safety hazard.

"All the developers develop the way they do is so they can turn the land back to its original use upon decommissioning," said Danny Searcy with the Rutherford County Planning department. "We want to make sure solar farms can come just with a few conditions that will enhance public health and safety."

Harrill said the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the draft ordinance.

County commissioners gave a favorable response after one public comment during the public hearing.

"I think they have done their due diligence and really have gone above and beyond," said Commissioner Bill Eckler.

While they were unable to approve the ordinance, commissioners did vote in favor of calling a special meeting for 3:30 p.m. Friday for the ordinance's second consideration.

In other business, commissioners:

• passed the recommended Airport Transportation Improvement Plan to be sent to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for funding consideration.