The next farms to come to Effingham County may be growing power instead of crops or livestock.
County commissioners voted to allow solar farms as a conditional use in AR-1 zoned property, adhering to the standard process for commissioners’ approval. Doing so allows commissioners to add stipulations on a case-by-case basis.
“It still goes through the planning board,” zoning administrator George Shaw explained.
The solar farm also would have to meet buffer requirements and no new roads could be built for the facility. The structures also must meet wind load requirements, as spelled out in the county building code.
Commissioners supported the idea of solar farms but also wanted to ensure there was adequate cushioning between the farms and adjacent property owners.
“It it’s a 100-acre site right across the road from someone’s house, they might complain, and we’d have to look for buffers,” Commissioner Steve Mason said.
Commissioners also wanted to make sure that neighboring property owners continue to have a right to a public hearing for such a use.
“I think the public needs a way to say what’s going on,” Chairman Wendall Kessler said. “I’m not good with bypassing the system, not having citizens have a say in what happens to land next to them.”
Shaw said the new rules don’t take into account any acreage limits on the solar farms. The land also would revert back to AR-1 if the solar farm went away, he added.
HMP Solar approached commissioners in May about a potential solar farm under Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative, a program to license small- and medium-sized solar power-generating facilities.
Andrew Tanner of HMP Solar said it takes eight-to-10 weeks to manufacture the equipment and another five-to-six weeks to install it. The solar panels will be three feet off the ground in the front and seven feet off the ground in the back.
Time is a concern, Tanner pointed out. The solar panels have to be in by the end of the year to qualify for Georgia Power grants, and the next round of grants is in March.
Solar farms on land zoned AR-1 would require two public hearings and could take two-and-a-half to three months for approval.
“It’s really making it quite tight,” he said. “There is a lot of discussion across the country how to speed up the approval process.”
Kessler endorsed the idea of solar farms in the county and voiced his support to Tanner.
“This is one of the best uses of wetlands I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We’d really like to see you do it.”