Town board OKs solar farm plan

Newton Grove Commissioners review a zoning ordinance for solar array.

NEWTON GROVE — During a public hearing about solar farms, a group of residents expressed their concerns before a decision was made to change spacing regulation.

The town’s commissioners unanimously approved amendments to an ordinance regarding solar farm arrays. Construction must be 300 feet from properties, schools, churches and 1,000 from existing solar facility. Faye Lewis, zoning administrator, presented the zoning ordinance to the commission an residents who attended the meeting.

According to the previous ordinance, all improved areas of the solar array medium or large facility shall be at least 100 feet from a public road and 50 feet from a side and rear property line. It also stated that improved areas shall be at least 300 feet from any residence on adjoining property, schools, or churches.”

Solar panels have been a controversial topic for over a year. Before a vote was made regarding an ordinance, one person in opposition stated that she would rather have a McDonald’s near her home instead of a solar farm. Another resident questioned, what was going to stop someone coming back and changing regulations. It was also suggested to set the limit to 1,500 feet when it came to properties near solar farms.

“The thing is, we don’t want any more solar farms behind our houses,” one resident stated to town officials. “We got enough farms behind our properties.”

A closed session was held with Lew Starling, attorney for the board, before a decision was made. The purpose was to provide clarification on what precedents would be set by doing so.

Previously, a solar farm permit was granted for property on West Grove Street. It was also reported that a permit for a solar farm on Bells Branch was denied because of a moratorium in place. ESA Renewables was granted a permit before a lease was sold to BayWa r.e.

During previous meetings, safety was also concern for the Bell Ranch area. It was stated that six children lived on the road and construction of a solar farm would be dangerous for them.

After the meeting, Town Clerk Amanda Turner said a decision was made to have an ordinance on solar arrays, following a period of opposition and with permits being withdrawn.

“We decided to put a moratorium in and have an ordinance specifically for solar farms,” Turner said. “In our other one, we didn’t have anything specific for solar farms.”

Along with spacing, the zoning ordinance also included submittable requirements. One of them include blocking glares generated by the facility must be mitigated or directed away from an adjoining property or adjacent road if it becomes a nuisance or safety hazard. It also states that a medium (ground mounted system less than or equal to 10 acres) or large facility (greater than 10 acres) has to be fenced in to restrict unauthorized access.

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