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DeKalb County Board approves solar power ordinance

SYCAMORE – After a brief discussion and the addition of two friendly amendments, the DeKalb County Board approved a solar energy ordinance Wednesday that will go into effect April 1.

Conversations began in September for the ordinance and a two-part public hearing was held in January and February to gather public input. The solar proposal will act as a precursor for county staff to develop a separate proposal regulating wind power.

County Community Development Director Derek Hiland said that after the solar ordinance was presented to the county Planning and Zoning Committee, which unanimously approved the proposal, an effort was made to begin talking about wind-energy systems.

“We’ve had a couple of workshops talking about that and will continue to do so,” Hiland said.

Although the ordinance was passed, the 18-month moratorium on wind and solar energy passed last year still will prevent the board from issuing any special use permits for wind farms.

The purpose of the solar ordinance is for each project that comes to the county to follow the same set of rules and guidelines. Otherwise, each project would require a special use permit.

One item that gained a lot of attention during discussions was a setback of 100 feet, which was reduced from 500 feet. The setback means a solar array and any solar-collecting components within a solar farm would have to be kept 100 feet from a property line or right-of-way. Hiland said staff suggested a 250-foot setback as a compromise, but 100 feet ultimately was settled on.

“When that [500 feet] recommendation was made, those present thought 500 feet was probably too onerous or burdensome,” Hiland said.

According to the ordinance, this requirement may be waived so long as the solar farm’s owner obtains and records signed and notarized affidavits approving the setback waiver from all property owners and affected road authorities adjoining the farm’s location. However, any part of the solar farm should never be within 50 feet of a property line or right-of-way.

Other portions of the draft solar ordinance contain regulations on permitted uses, height requirements, liability insurance and indemnification requirements and decommissioning plans for the end of the project.

Board member Roy Plote proposed making two changes to the ordinance as friendly amendments. The first would change language saying that electric solar energy system components be designed with anti-reflective “coatings” to anti-reflective “properties.”

Plote said solar panel parts already are made with coatings built within the structures which make the coating language redundant.

The second amendment clarified language regarding a provision that power and communication lines running between banks of solar panels and to nearby electric substations or interconnections with buildings be buried underground. Plote said there was discussion to change the word “nearby” to “on-site” so people wishing to add a new substation won’t think they have to run underground lines all around the area.

Hiland called both of the presented amendments reasonable, understandable and consistent with the tones of the meetings had on the ordinance thus far.

Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski said that as with any ordinance or code in place, there always are things that can be adjusted by the board in case facts or future science leads to different determinations.

“If it’s proven that over time, we need to adjust [the solar ordinance] for whatever reason, we can make those adjustments,” Pietrowski said.

Hiland said staff members already have begun the process of codifying the language to fit it into the zoning ordinance.

“We will work in earnest to try and get that ready,” Hiland said.