The next Fayette County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting that will likely decide if a conditional-use permit will be approved to allow a solar farm, “Fayette Solar,” to be created in Perry Township is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.
The company that would be designing and operating the proposed Fayette Solar farm is National Grid Renewables. The farm is proposed to be located on 435 acres of land rented from a local landowner.
That land is located in southeast Perry Township between Bonner Road, Barrett Road, Beatty Road and the Highland County line. It is estimated to be a 47.5 megawatt (MW) solar energy development.
The first Fayette County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting in which the permit for the project was discussed was held last week. During that meeting, several questions were asked by both board members and Perry Township residents who attended. Representatives were present from the company to give a presentation and to try and answer the questions.
It was decided during the meeting to postpone the decision to the following meeting, which will be the meeting on Jan. 25.
The meeting will be held at the Union Township building, 1505 Old State Route 38 N.E., Washington C.H. The reason for the meetings being held at this location, according to Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean, is the building has recording equipment that other township buildings do not have and recordings of meetings are now being used as a tool for legal protection.
Essentially, a solar farm is an area typically consisting of multiple acres of land that tends to use ground-mounted solar panels (which are photovoltaic panels, also known as PV panels). Due to the amount of land needed for these farms, they are commonly found in rural locations. The specific location needs to be near enough to an electrical system that can handle the project, so it can’t be located in any random spot.
Some of the questions and collected responses are as follows:
-How does the company decide where to locate a new farm?
Derek Hasek, a senior developer and market lead from National Grid Renewables who was at the meeting, explained there are two main requirements: interested land owners who want to rent the land out for the solar farm, and an existing electrical infrastructure in the area so the farm can be plugged into the electrical grid. Other aspects they look for is a generally-supportive community, a good solar resource meaning generally sunny weather (which Ohio has a decent amount of), an area that the farm could fit in topography-wise, and a commercial partner that will purchase the electricity.
-Why is the project proposed to be just under 50 MW as that is a tier for certain requirements to be met?
Although the representatives were not given the chance to answer during the meeting before another question was asked, according to National Grid Renewables Director of Marketing and Communications Lindsay Smith, “Fayette Solar is sized as large as the local electrical infrastructure will allow.”
-Does the company have plans to expand once the proposed solar farm is constructed?
According to Hasek, there are no plans for expansion. The farm is planned to be built, maintained, and used as proposed. There are numerous reasons why this is the case, but one reason was limitations of the substation the farm would be connected to.
-Once the farm is built, will it be sold to another company?
“We are going to be the owners and the operators for this project for the long term,” explained Hasek. “We’re going to be the ones who go through the interconnection process. We will be the one to finance this. We will be the ones who build it, and we will be the ones on-call. If and when people have questions down the road when this thing is operational, you’re going to be dealing with us. We’re not going to be selling it to anybody else in the marketplace.”
-How is the glass on the panels kept clean?
Rain does a good job of cleaning them, according to Hasek.
-How hail-proof are the panels?
This question was brought up a couple times. Hasek explained the panels are “very” hail-proof. According to multiple online sources, hail rarely damages solar panels as they are made and tested to withstand extreme weather in multiple locations, not just Ohio.
-Funding was brought up in different capacities.
According to Hasek, there is insurance to cover catastrophic or decommission events, if certain parts of the property are damaged during construction the company will fix it, use of roadways for construction equipment will be discussed and worked out with the county engineer, any damage caused to roadways during construction will be fixed by the company.
-What is the timeline?
If approved, construction would most likely begin during the spring of next year. The goal would be to complete construction in 6-9 months, but that is weather-dependent.
Conditional Use Permit Conditions for Fayette Solar, LLC
If the permit passes, the following is a simplified list of the conditions that must be met by the Fayette Solar project to use and continue to use the land as a solar farm.
-The project will be completed as described in the application being reviewed for the permit.
-Prior to construction of the solar farm, an application for a building permit must be submitted to the zoning official. This application must include a final (scaled) site plan showing the final layout of the proposed facility. Before the building/ electrical permit is granted, the final site plan must be approved.
-The final site plan needs to show location, size and design details of the proposed system and must demonstrate compliance with the conditional use permit. A detailed list of information is required in the site plan.
-The system must meet setback requirements from adjacent land not part of the solar farm. Perimeter fencing and screening are not part of the setback requirements.
-Sound producing equipment, such as power inverters, must be at least 150 feet away from any dwelling at the time of construction/installation.
-A certificate of compliance that shows the system has been tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories or another approved independent testing agency must be gained prior to operation of the solar farm.
-The systems must conform to applicable industry standards.
-Power and utility lines must be located underground where practical, except for the power and utility lines identified on the preliminary site plan provided in the application.
-All systems should be designed and located in a way to prevent reflective glare toward any habitable buildings and street right-of-ways.
-The solar energy systems must be maintained in good, working order and must remain operable.
-The height of solar panels and inverters must stay at or below 20 feet.
-The systems must be completely enclosed with a chain link or security fence that is at least six feet tall to restrict direct public access. The fencing must have a locking mechanism, follow fence regulations set forth by the Fayette County Zoning Resolution, and must encompass the entire systems facility.
-Evergreen vegetative screening must be used to help hide the solar farm from houses on adjacent land within 500 feet of an above-ground facility component — where existing buffers do not exist. The vegetative screening, at maturity, must be at least 15 feet tall regardless of line-of-sight.
-The screening and fencing requirements apply for the boundary of the fences solar facility and not for linear electrical lines outside of it.
-As part of the building permit approval process, a decommissioning plan must be submitted to the zoning administrator. The decommissioning plan must include a detailed list of how and when decommissioning of the solar farm would be enacted: defined conditions upon which decommissioning will be initiated (such as end of lease, condition of a potential public safety hazard, etc.); removal of all non-utility equipment, conduits, structures, fencing, roads and foundations; restoration of property to its condition prior to the solar farm; the time-frame for removal and decommissioning activities; signed statement from the party responsible for completing the decommissioning plan. Further conditions may be enacted at the time of decommissioning if the zoning official considers them to be relevant and necessary.
Those who wish to address further concerns or thoughts on the matter, including positive comments or outlooks on the project, are welcome to email Fayette County Zoning Official Greg McCune at email@example.com. By emailing rather than showing up in person to the meeting, social distancing and COVID-19 guidelines can be better followed.
This article is the second one written about the Board of Zoning Appeals solar farm meeting and the third overall article about the local solar farm project. The other articles can be found on the Record-Herald website , www.recordherald.com: “Solar farm proposed for county” and “Solar farm decision postponed.”
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.