County Weld could implement additional solar energy regulations if the council of commissioners approves changes to the county code.
The Weld County Planning Commission discussed the proposals at its meeting on Tuesday.
Tom Parko, Weld County Planning Services Director, presented the proposed changes to solar panel regulations under Chapters 21 and 23 of the County Code, which respectively describe “County Areas and Activities of Interest” and “zoning”.
Parko said landowners and businesses can currently install small, medium and large-scale solar power installations on land zoned for agriculture. Installations are classified according to the area they occupy and the amount of energy produced. All installations must go through certain regulatory processes.
The proposed changes include permission to place small, medium and large-scale solar power installations on land zoned for agriculture, but they will face further limitations if the county code amending ordinance is passed. .
Small-scale installations – which generate up to 5 megawatts of energy – can only occupy 20% of a plot of land. If a resident owns 100 acres of land and wants to lease it to a business or start their own solar panel farm, the solar facilities could not occupy more than 20 acres. They must be 250 feet from another solar installation.
Under the proposed new rules, medium-sized solar installations (5mW to 30mW capacity) can be on agricultural land if the location is three miles outside of a municipality’s boundaries, responds the definition of course terrain and regulatory limits. These can be placed on all three industrial zones, but they must undergo the process of revising the site plan. Mid-sized facilities can occupy more than 20 acres of land, Parko said.
Finally, large-scale solar installations (capacity greater than 30 mW) can be placed in an agricultural zone if they meet the same requirements as medium-sized installations, but the placement is not authorized in Industrial zoning 1. The zone I-1 features light industrial work that takes place mostly indoors, according to the county code. Installations can be placed in an I-2 or I-3 zone. These require a review of the sitemap.
A landowner has slammed the proposal, saying she should be allowed to use the 200 acres of her property for solar power if she chooses, especially since oil and gas companies don’t face the same regulations. . The owner said she didn’t think her land would need to be industrialized if she wanted to place more solar panels on her land.
The proposed changes were placed on the committee’s agenda on Friday, November 27. Parko said, however, that the briefing provided to the planning commission differed from what he presented.
Departmental commissioners initially wanted a strict ban on solar installations in the agricultural zone, but this met with opposition from stakeholders.
Parko met with county commissioners on Tuesday ahead of the planning committee meeting to discuss the comments received. He said limiting the distance between solar installations and municipalities was a compromise for the commissioners.
When asked the reason for these changes, such as major issues with current regulations, Parko said, “They are interested in protecting major agricultural farms.”
A map of prime farmland – created in the 1970s – determined the best land based on soil composition.
Parko admitted there was no real rush to deal with the regulations, but the commissioners – his five bosses, as he put it – wanted it done by the end of the year.
Some planning commissioners have expressed concern about the three-mile radius for the retreat of medium and large-scale solar installations, noting that some municipalities and residents might not care because solar farms are less disruptive than oil and gas sites.
“I understand what we’re trying to do, but I’m a big fan of ‘if this is your land, do whatever you want with it’, and I don’t see what’s broken (with the current rules) that we need to be corrected, ”said a commissioner who was difficult to identify due to the constraints of the live broadcast format.
The commissioners will carry out a first reading of the draft order 2020-20 at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The final reading is scheduled for December 30.