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County OKs zoning request for solar farms
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Two more solar farms could be coming to Effingham County by the end of the year.

County commissioners approved conditional use requests from Beltline Energy for nearly 450 acres off Old Louisville Road and 124 acres off Clyo Kildare Road.

Ryan Sanders of Beltline Energy said the company has a contract with Georgia Power, under its advanced solar initiative. The array of solar panels on the Clyo Kildare property will generate 1.5 megawatts of alternating current power and will occupy about 13 acres. It likely will not exceed 17 acres, Sanders said.

The company does not have a contract for the power generated by the solar farm to be installed off Old Louisville Road but Sanders said it is on the utility’s short list.

In giving their authorization for the conditional use, commissioners required a 50-foot vegetative buffer for the array to be placed off Clyo Kildare Road, with another 150 feet of undisturbed buffer for a total of 200 feet.

“We want to get off on the right foot,” Sanders said. “We want to do business in Georgia.”

There were concerns from neighbors over the safety of the solar farm, especially if a fire, such as one triggered by a lightning strike, breaks out.

“There have been several brush fires. If we see smoke, do we leave?” asked Jimmy Park. “My main concern is for the safety of my child. I’m not against solar panels. But if I see smoke, do I need to run?”

Park offered a concern about the makeup of the panels and of the other materials used in conjunction with them. Sanders said the panels are composed of silicon and glass.

“There is no known health hazard we are aware of or the state of Georgia is aware of,” he said.

Commissioner Jamie Deloach said he spoke with a solar energy expert at Georgia Power, who told him there have been no reports of fires or other hazards with other solar farms.

Another concern was that the panels, in tracking the sun, would create a glare on the road for drivers. Sanders said the panels could be oriented in such a way that there would not be a vision problem for motorists and that the reflection off a body of water would be greater.

“You will experience more reflectivity off that pond than off these panels,” he said.

The state Public Service Commission approved Georgia Power’s advanced solar initiative, designed to generate 210 megawatts of solar energy capacity. The PSC approved an additional 525 MW of solar power in July 2013.

“We send in the applications, we do the due diligence on the land, the title and on the grid itself,” Sanders said.

In the last few weeks, the company has received contracts for 16 MW of power and has installed solar farms in Emanuel, Tattnall and other counties south of the fall line.