Coming together to grow — YCDC director offers insight on solar field regulations

By Lisa Hurley, executive director of the York County Development Corporation

I attended the York County Planning Commission on Monday evening and provided the below testimony in an effort to advocate for best practices on solar zoning regulations. I do this from a place of wanting to ensure we adopt practices that impact projects around the county for years to come. I want to thank

It is my hope that this discussion around zoning regulations will focus on the bigger picture. These regulations should not be about any one specific project, rather regulations should consider how any industrial project may impact our community and set boundaries that will keep us safe while allowing our community to benefit from new and different opportunities. There are resources such as consulting firms available to help write practical regulations rather than copying from another county.

Economic development in our community is a delicate matter. We have to look over trends, and how different industries are impacting business and talent desires. We want the benefits of increased investment, but we want to ensure that the investment is a good fit. I fully realize the difference in this opinion on this topic.

Reasonable county-wide zoning regulations provide guardrails while allowing for the opportunity to grow our business community. The regulations should spell out expectations through a Conditional Use Permit process, and not be so far out of the best practices area.

As your economic developer, I am seeing expansion and recruitment projects that look at utilizing or locating within a region where there is a mix of energy production. Companies also look to states that realize there’s a need to increase electric production. I am currently working on a potential expansion project looking at utilizing solar. After viewing the proposed zoning jurisdiction, we found that if the project was located in a Rural Commercial/Industrial District, it would be blocked from happening. It is my belief that proposed zoning ordinances focus on the ag district and have unintended consequences related to not allowing solar development for industrial or rural resident districts. There are livestock facilities in York County that would now be unable to do what they had done in the past. I have seen many recruitment projects this year asking about renewable development, that may have been driven by corporate or even their customer base.

I would also state, that because of how these solar codes have been handled and the conversation that’s portrayed online, businesses looking for a mid-west location are very hesitant in York County right now. This is another unintended consequence of blocking economic development projects in York County. I have been told that we had lost a site visit for an Agri-business because of these conversations and that we now have a reputation for not being business-friendly.  Trust me, our large facilities are watching these conversations, and the final codes will be part of the discussion when they decide in the future on expansions or updating facilities.

Please resist the urge to simply copy and paste from another county that does not reflect York County. I plead with you to review the Center for Rural Affairs Solar Siting Guide for Nebraska Counties and to adopt county-wide guidelines that fall within best practices, which will allow us to use further regulations during the conditional use permit.

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