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County tries to warm up to solar farm projects
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Recent requests about solar farms has Effingham County commissioners wondering how to handle those inquiries for certain zoning districts.

County Administrator David Crawley said the county has gotten a lot of requests recently about solar farms. He told commissioners Georgia Power is looking to contract with different entities to provide solar power.

But the sticking point, Crawley said, is the majority of the land under consideration for the solar farms is zoned AR-1.

“Our ordinance as written now would only allow us to put those in industrial districts,” Crawley said. “There is nothing that would allow solar farms to be placed in AR-1 and AR-2 districts.”

Crawley said the solar farm prospects are looking for 100 to 250 acres to accommodate the solar panel arrays needed to produce enough power.

Commissioners said they didn’t have a problem with homeowners putting up solar power-generating panels for their own use.

“I just want to protect the homeowner who puts in an array that may generate a little bit more than they use,” said Commissioner Steve Mason. “I don’t want them to have to rezone to commercial or industrial.”

Mason also said solar power has changed enough to eliminate the need for storage batteries for residential use.

“With new technology, you don’t have to have a battery,” he said. “During the day, your power generation goes to the grid and at night, you buy it back from the grid. Basically, you’ve sold it during the day and you’ve bought it back at night.”

Zoning administrator George Shaw said most of those who have called him asking about solar farms said they won’t have homes on the property.

“Someone is going to show up once a month to check on it and that’s it,” he said.

Chairman Wendall Kessler posited that someone could set up a line of solar panels along one side of a tract and decide to use the rest of the land for agricultural purposes. He wondered how the county would handle that situation and added he wasn’t in favor of a blanket approval for AR-1 districts.

Crawley said they could look at what other counties allow for conditional uses in their zoning districts.