County to consider regulations for solar farms
Winston-Salem Journal (NC), 2014-02-07
Feb. 07--With a push for more solar farms around the state, local planning and zoning officials want to make sure Forsyth County has regulations in place.
On Monday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote on a zoning text amendment that would define solar farms in the Unified Development Ordinances and create additional screening requirements. The City-County Planning Board recommended the amendment on Jan. 9.
David Reed, a principal planner with the city-county planning department, told the commissioners at a briefing last week that the amendment is a proactive effort in case solar farms are proposed for the county.
He said that primary concerns in other counties have been visual impacts on surrounding properties.
"In the event one were to be placed here, we just wanted to have these protections for neighbors," Reed said.
This text amendment is only being considered in the county, but could be brought before the Winston-Salem City Council, Reed said on Wednesday.
Forsyth County doesn't have a solar farm, but Strata Solar of Chapel Hill said in a legal filing in November that it wants approval to build a five-megawatt solar farm on the south side of West Clemmonsville Road, west of Ebert Road.
Solar farms currently fall under utilities in Forsyth County's ordinance but don't have a specific definition. With the changes, solar farms would be a subcategory under utilities with additional requirements.
The amendment would define a solar farm as "ground mounted components and subsystems required to convert solar energy into electric energy on sites one acre or larger." Reed said that roof-mounted solar panels or small-scale ground-mounted solar panels that are an accessory use would not be affected.
A screen of evergreens at least 6 feet high in a staggered row 5 feet apart would be required along property lines adjacent to residentially zoned property and public rights of way. Reed said it is the same buffer required for storage yards.
The amendment would also call for components of a solar farm no longer in use to be removed within a year.
Commissioner Bill Whiteheart had questions about the screening requirements. He said the suggested buffer seemed to be modeled after a stricter type of buffer designed for urban areas. With solar farms more likely to pop up in rural areas, he said there might be a happy medium. A timber-management operation could count as a buffer, he said, which could generate revenue for a business owner instead of just an added expense of planting an evergreen screen.
Commissioner Walter Marshall said with so few acres of farmland left in the county, he would like land to be preserved for other types of rural growth. He said he is in favor of more restrictions.
"I applaud you guys for being proactive, but I think we need to be more proactive," he said.
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