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With little public feedback, new solar farm ordinance is adopted

Only one resident spoke out at the public hearing held Tuesday for the county’s new solar ordinance.
Peter Wright, a resident of Stephens Road, warned against solar farms taking crop land out of food production to create energy. “It’s something to consider,” Wright told county commissioners this week.
Commissioner T.D. David agreed that was a potential downside to the expanding solar energy production industry. The county commissioner also noted the board had included stipulations in the new ordinance to require, once the facilities were no longer operational, that they remove the equipment and leave the land as it was originally found.
“We’re requiring companies be bonded so if they go bankrupt we are covered. They’ve got to put it back in the original state,” Grady County Commission Vice Chairman Ray Prince said.
The new ordinance adopted this week regulates solar power generating operations that are situated on tracts of land five acres or more and generate at least 15 Kilowatts of electricity.
The ordinance would not regulate solar power generation on less than five acres.
By adopting the amendment to the county’s Specified Land Use Regulations, solar farms would be required to be set back 35 feet from all property lines and 300 feet from a habitable dwelling, church or business.
The ordinance also requires an opaque vegetative buffer that is a minimum of four feet in height when planted and at maturity not less than 15 feet in height.
The new regulation would also limit the height of the solar collectors to 15 feet.
It requires solar farms to be completely enclosed by a fence located inside the opaque buffer.
Should a solar farm cease to operate, the county commission requires the removal of solar panels and other equipment within 150 days of operations being ceased.
The ordinance would also provide for the county to go in and remove the decommissioned solar farm equipment if it has not been removed by the owner or operator within 150 days and the owner or operator would be responsible for the county’s costs.
Prior to issuing a permit for the construction of a solar farm, the permit holder must provide the county with a surety bond equal to 10 percent of the total construction cost of the solar farm. The surety bond shall be in the form of a new or modified guaranty to ensure the availability of funds for decommissioning costs. The newly adopted ordinance requires a debt rating of A or better from Standard and Poor’s and A2 or better from Moody’s ratings agencies.
“I think we’ve pretty well covered it,” Vice Chairman Prince said Tuesday.
The board voted 3-0 to adopt the ordinance. Voting to adopt the ordinance were Vice Chairman Prince, Commissioners T.D. David and Keith Moye. Chairman Elwyn Childs and Commissioner LaFaye Copeland were absent Tuesday morning.
The new law goes into effect immediately and the moratorium issued previously on development of solar farms in the county has been lifted.

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