Process of creating solar field zoning regulations continues

YORK COUNTY – The process of creating solar field regulations for York County continues.

This week, the county’s planning commission met for the fourth time on this particular matter. There was a large crowd in attendance – half of the audience appeared to be from the Hayes Township (where the K Junction Solar project would be located near McCool Junction) and the other half appeared to be interested parties from elsewhere in the state and from the energy sector.

The five-person planning commission is tasked with creating recommended regulations for such projects, to be presented to the York County Commissioners who will have the final say.

At this point in the process, the planning commission has come up with pages and pages of proposed regulations for different sizes and types of solar projects.

The classification earning the most attention at this point, because of the proposed K Junction Project, which would measure approximately 2,500 acres, is the Class 4 project which is for commercial solar with a parcel size of at least 20 acres.

The proposed regulations for this size of project (which would pertain to K Junction Solar if it were to happen) include that a special use permit would have to be issued in the agricultural zoning district.

It also calls for the following minimum requirements:

  • No structure can be placed within the high-water mark of waterways as identified as flood plains.
  • Setbacks from a public road would be a minimum distance of 75 feet.
  • No setbacks would be required between an adjacent residence of a property participating in the same project.
  • The setbacks from non-participating properties would be a minimum of 660 feet (1/8 mile) from the property line.
  • The setbacks from non-participating existing dwellings would be a minimum of 2,640 (1/2 mile) from the property line.
  • The setbacks from schools and churches would be a minimum of 3,960 feet (3/4 mile) from the property line.
  • The setbacks from state recreation areas would be a minimum of 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) from the property line.
  • The setbacks from approved platted subdivisions would be a minimum of 2,640 feet (1/2 mile) from the property line.
  • Structures would have to meet applicable industry standard codes, shall be neutral in color and cannot be used to display advertising.
  • All such projects have to use either anti-glare or anti-reflective panels.
  • It would have to meet all requirements for placements with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Such a project will have to have visual screening for adjacent non-participating, public park and school uses. Fences, walls, berming, vegetation or some combination to provide visual screening will have to be used. Fencing, walls or berming may be used to supplement other screening methods, but shall not account for over 50% of the screening. Existing natural features, topography and vegetation may be used to achieve visual screening. There are many requirements regarding each and every method of screening.
  • All ground mounted electrical and control equipment must be labeled and secured to prevent unauthorized access. All electrical wires associated with the project, other than the wires necessary to connect the disconnect junction box and the grounding wires shall be located underground.
  • The owner shall minimize and mitigate any interference with electromagnetic communications, such as radio, telephone, internet or television signals.
  • Construction sites must be re-graded and re-vegetated to minimize environmental impacts.
  • Each system application must have a decommissioning plan outlining the means, procedure and costs of removing all related support infrastructure.
  • The system has to comply with all state and federal regulations.
  • Each system must have a 911 address.
  • Each has to be designed and placed in such a manner to minimize adverse visual and noise impacts on adjacent areas.

There are many requirements regarding an application for a special use permit.

Also included in the proposed regulations:

  • All public roads to be used for transporting materials, cement or equipment for construction, operation or maintenance have to be identified and applicable weight and size permits from the impacted road authorities have to be obtained prior to construction. A pre-construction survey must be conducted with the appropriate jurisdictions to determine existing road conditions.
  • Prior to construction, the applicant has to enter into an agreement with the county roads department regarding the use of county roads during construction. The agreement has to include traffic routes, time of year use, staging areas and any other physical sites related to the project. All roads have to be constructed and maintained to allow access at all times by emergency service vehicles. The project owner will be responsible for immediate repair of damage to public roads and drainage systems stemming from construction, operation or maintenance of the project.
  • Solid and hazardous wastes, including packaging materials, damaged or worn parts, as well as used oil and lubricants have to be removed from the site promptly and disposed of in accordance with all regulations.

There are also many safety requirements included in the proposed regulations.

There are three main requirements for discontinuation and decommissioning as far as timing.

And there are five requirements pertaining to noise that might be caused by a solar power facility.

Four of the five planning commission members – Roger Morris, Aaron Kavon, Karl Heine and Chad Hirschfeld – were present for this week’s hearing. Not present was recently-appointed member, Luke Gruber. It was disclosed that Gruber was not in attendance because he had to be out of state for a previously scheduled mandated work-related meeting.

Kavon, chairman of the planning commission, explained how the reason for the meeting was to go over the latest version of the proposed regulations, which had been edited since the last meeting.

“This is how it stands today,” Kavon said before opening the meeting to public comment. “We will be taking notes and listening to what you have to say.”

Dave Begley of Omaha addressed the planning commission, saying, “This whole thing is expansive and unreliable. This is driven by federal tax credits. We only have two million people in Nebraska and if OPPD thinks they can change our climate they are nuts. Manmade climate change is the biggest scam ever. If this is approved, York County will become a dumping ground for solar. And I’ve been told Bold Nebraska and Jane Kleeb are here, they were paid $2 million from San Francisco.”

Jake Owens of York said he’s a “proud member of York County community and I ask you to not surrender to partisan politics or bullying. This is something we really need for our growth and I’m concerned we are limiting what the farmers can do with their land.”

Lisa Hurley, director of the York County Development Corporation, said she hoped “this discussion will focus on the bigger picture and not on one single project. Economic development is a delicate matter and we have to look at how different sectors affect our economy. This is a York County business. Businesses looking at the Midwest could become hesitant about York County if we have a reputation of not being business friendly.”

Hank McGowan of McCool Junction said, “As a landowner, I’m interested in participating in the solar project. I ask for proper regulations to protect the community but also allow for reasonable development. I love my farm and being a steward of my land and I believe we can continue to do so. I’m asking for reasonable regulations and not an all-out ban. York County is my home and I want nothing but the best for my community.”

Adam Beck, a rural York County resident, thanked the planning commission for their work “on this difficult task.”

Willard Peterson explained how he is a resident “from a different part of the county” than where the K Junction Solar project will be located. “This is about every township in York County. People in my area are for and against solar projects like this and more don’t see it as a problem probably because it won’t be in their backyard. My great concern, after looking at the regulations, is they would make it so expensive (for the developer) it would be nearly impossible to comply.”

OPPD’s Brad Underwood told the planning commission he “echoed gratitude for the forum.” He spoke of how one point of reason OPPD acquired the K Junction project was that a low cost energy system needs a number of renewable energy sources. “We believe we have a great opportunity here in York County. Support for solar energy existing in York County. The zoning regulations you are considering today are highly restrictive. We agree regulations should be put in place, but highly restrictive regulations will limit not just OPPD but other projects in York County.”

Gene Jackson, a resident of Hayes Township, thanked the planning commission for their work and said 22 acreages in his township would be surrounded by the solar fields if the project took place.

Ken Real, also a rural McCool resident, asked that setbacks also be included for cemeteries, as schools and churches were already mentioned. “And for cattle production areas, due to temperatures.”

A representative for the Center for Rural Affairs said solar energy projects are an “unprecedented opportunity for places like York County. I found your (preliminary) setbacks to be unnecessarily limiting the development. We are offering our assistance as a resource if needed.”

Jane Kleeb, representing Bold Alliance, said she felt the county should consider regulations for other energy projects as well, including for carbon capture pipelines. Regarding the solar regulations being proposed, she said she hoped the county would reconsider the “restrictive” setbacks.

Kavon said the planning commission had received some proposed edits and the group wanted to continue discussions on the matter. He said they wanted to schedule another meeting, to make more changes, before taking a vote.

“We are looking at everything,” Kavon said. “We are looking at protecting people and I know we’ve talked to numerous other counties about their processes as we are moving forward with creating these new regulations for York County.”

The plan, at this point, is for another planning commission meeting to be held in the second week of December. If a vote is taken at that point, the commission’s recommendations will be sent on to the county commissioners, which will have the final say.



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