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Tobar allows solar company to draft proposed county ordinance

Grady County commissioners on Tuesday rejected a proposed solar farm ordinance drafted by attorneys for a prospective developer opting for the county attorney to draft his own ordinance.
Apparently, Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar had conferred with representatives of a firm that has expressed interest in developing a solar project possibly as large as 500 acres here and the firm’s attorney put together a draft of a county solar ordinance, which Tobar put before county commissioners.
Tobar also recommended not making many changes to the ordinance prepared by the company’s representatives.
“The draft you have here, try to stick with this because these folks are preparing proposals and there are certain assumptions they have to make when putting together their budgets,” Tobar told commissioners this week.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley described it as “unusual” for the county to allow a third party, which the county plans to regulate, to draft the ordinance themselves.
“That’s like letting the fox guard the hen house,” Grady County Commission Vice Chairman Ray Prince said.
Tobar said it was not unusual to him and he said, “If you want this you kind of have to work with the company that has shown interest in coming here.”
“I’m not going to let you throw the people of Grady County to the wolves,” Prince responded.
Vice Chairman Prince said he did approve of some of the language included in the draft related to the decommissioning of the solar farm as drafted by the as of yet unidentified source .
“That’s why they included the decommissioning language, because I told them you wanted that in there,” Tobar said.
Prince and Cauley both noted issues with the language in the document drafted by the developer’s attorney.
“I don’t want a 300 acre solar farm 50 feet from my house,” Prince said.
Under the proposed ordinance presented by Tobar a solar farm could be constructed 50 feet from a dwelling and 20 feet from the property line. The proposed ordinance would also only regulate solar projects consisting of five acres or more.
The county attorney said he could prepare a draft of an ordinance for the board to consider at its next meeting and a public hearing could be held on the ordinance at the first meeting in May.
“We can put it out there and if the company has objections they can make them known and we can respond,” Cauley said.
Commissioners made clear they are not interested in regulated solar projects smaller than five acres and Prince said that there would be much less development of solar farms here as there has been in neighboring Decatur County due to the lack of flat land here.
Whereas in Decatur County there are several smaller solar panels erected in corners of fields from three to 15 acres in size, Prince says that farmers here can plant more of those corners to farm.
The consensus of the board this week was to require solar farms to be set back 300 feet from the nearest dwelling and 35 feet from the property line. Commissioners are also considering requiring a vegetative buffer,which at maturity, would be 15 feet tall and the facility would be fenced and locked.
The wording in the draft Tobar presented this week seemed to indicate that the guarantee to cover costs of decommissioning would not have to be put in place until the end of the fifth year of operation, but county commissioners said Tuesday they want that “bonding” in place from day one.
Cauley suggested setting a percentage of the construction cost as the requirement to cover the cost of decommissioning the facility should it cease to operate.
The county attorney also suggested requiring a higher debt rating than the BBB- or better threshold as suggested by the developer.
Commissioner Keith Moye, a county volunteer fireman, questioned what, if any, fire hazard a solar farm might create and Vice Chairman Prince said he guessed it could burn.
“That’s a good question. The company is willing to talk, but I have purposely told them I don’t want to know everything,” Tobar said.
Prince chided Tobar for not obtaining as much information as possible. He said the board could make a better decision if they have as much information as possible to begin with.
“We can give here and take there, but we don’t need to let them write their own proposals and we’re not going to let them put them 50 feet from a house,” Vice Chairman Prince said.
Tobar asked if the dwelling of the property owner where the solar farm is to be developed could be exempt. Cauley reminded the administrators as with the existing land use regulations there is a variance procedure and the property owner and neighbors can sign a waiver to the county’s required setback requirements.
Cauley is scheduled to present his draft to commissioners at the April 18 meeting and public hearing on the proposed new county ordinance will be held at the May 2 county commission meeting.

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