Georgetown County could soon take another step toward clean energy, joining several other counties in the state that allow solar farms.
County Council heard reasons from planning staff during its May 8 meeting for adding a section about solar farms to the county zoning ordinance. County Planning Director Boyd Johnson said during the meeting that solar farms in Georgetown County could soon be a reality if county leaders approve regulations for where and how they can be developed.
"These developments are taking place more frequently than in the past," Johnson said. "We are exploring zoning changes to accommodate these types of facilities. We have had at least three or four phone calls asking us about our solar ordinance."
He said that since there is currently no mention of solar farms in the zoning ordinance, they are technically not allowed in the county. So, an ordinance with restrictions for solar farms would actually allow them in the county.
Johnson said in checking ordinances of other counties and states, he has seen solar farms from 5 to 500 acres allowed. He said a county ordinance would set parameters for buffers, safety issues, building codes and electrical codes, similar to the requirements set up for wind farms in the county.
"We are not talking about solar panels on roofs of houses," he said. "This is on a larger scale than that."
Johnson said he has found some useful information about solar farms from county ordinances in North Carolina.
"The state of North Carolina has a lot of useful information about solar farms," Johnson said. "We are getting ideas about where they should be located, what zoning districts should allow them, minimum lot size and maximum lot size."
When asked by Council members Austin Beard and Ron Charlton about the negatives of allowing solar farms, Johnson said aviation glare might be an issue and it may affect property values of nearby residents.
"There are not a lot of negatives, unlike some other energy producers like nuclear power plants," Johnson said. "Also, a lot of land is needed for these farms, so clear cutting trees may be an issue. Typically, the objections are about aesthetics."
He said the draft ordinance will have to address situations where companies that have hundreds of acres of solar panels go out of business.
"In other states there's been evidence that indicates that the salvage value of the panels would more than offset the commissioning or cleanup of the site," Johnson said. "All of that is being considered as we draft the ordinance about this issue."
County Council Chairman Johnny Morant said during the meeting that this is a much-needed ordinance.
"Being able to regulate (solar farms) is important, rather than saying it is not in the zoning ordinance, so it is not allowed," he said.