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Solar zoning change passes easily 2nd time

(Nov. 21, 2014) Two amendments were apparently all it took to correct the zoning issues surrounding solar power production in Worcester County, when the county commissioners revisited the situation on Tuesday.

A provision has been added to require a buffer, not a screen, for solar farms qualified as “large,” producing between (200kW-2.5mW) located within 500 feet of a property zoned or used for residential purposes.

The semi-permeable buffer, rather than the full blockage of a screen, may also be located within the setback required under these conditions.

This change was made to appease the solar industrialists, who successfully argued that installing a buffer of a certain width and then add another setback on top of the buffer was too costly.

The second amendment adds back in zoning areas previously approved for solar power under the 2011 legislation, but left out of the former bill for reasons unknown. Zones E-1, V-1, C-1, C-2 and C-3 have been restored to the list of permissible zoning districts for “utility” scale (2.5mW+) solar systems.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley questioned the soft definition of the low end of the “utility” grade solar utilities, wondering if the commissioners should firm up the language. Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor resisted making the change, giving the commissioners ultimate authority of where “large” grade stops and “utility” grade begins.

Commissioner M. Jim Bunting agreed with Tudor, and said it “gives the commissioners the power to make the right decision,” with respect to individual projects.

There were three issues with the pending update to 2011 legislation identified during the public comment portion held at the end of October. The first problem pointed out by attorney Mark Cropper is that V-1 zoning was not included in the new utility designation. Cropper said his clients have already spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the project, now endangered by this update.

The second designation, was not included in the new utility  came from attorney, Robert Busler, who said designations of large and utility should be further split, because there is too much difference between a field producing kilowatts and one producing megawatts. The board did not address this.

The third issue was the concern over newly elected commissioners being brought up to speed in a manner timely enough as to not endanger the ongoing efforts. Essentially, commissioners and developers were wary of starting back at square one, feeling it might be unfair to those already working and the money already spent in pursuit of solar energy.

Without further discussion by the commissioners or audience, the measure passed unanimously.

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