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County to allow utility-scale solar farms

The Cumberland Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night, Oct. 13, to amend its county code in order to allow utility-scale solar facilities in the A-2, R-3 and M-2 zoning district classifications, subject to obtaining a conditional use permit.

The decision means good news for county residents who are hoping to lease their land to solar companies.

According to Cumberland Planning and Zoning Administrator Chelsey White, back in 2018 the board held a similar public hearing in order to allow utility-scale solar facilities in the county, but no action was taken, and the topic died down until recently.

“There has been recent interest from Cumberland County property owners in leasing their land to be used for solar farms or facilities,” White told the board Tuesday.

Utility-scale solar energy facilities, according to the meeting packet, are installations principally designed and used to capture and convert solar energy into electric or thermal energy primarily for off-site use, such as transmission to the power grid.

County Administrator Don Unmussig said Tuesday night he was under the impression that the county would quickly begin to receive applications for such facilities should the board pass the ordinance.

According to the meeting packet, with the exception of poles and lines necessary to connect to the power grid, the perimeter of any utility-scale solar facilities shall be located at least 50 feet from the property line of any adjoining parcel owned by any landowner other than the owner of the parcel on which the solar facility is being proposed, at least 100 feet from the nearest inhabitant residence at the time of the initial application and at least 100 feet from any public road.

With the exception of the lighting, poles and lines necessary to connect to the power grid, the height of structures and arrays in the system shall be ground mounted and not exceed 15 feet as measured from grade at the base of the structure to the apex of the structure. A vegetative buffer yard shall also be required.

In reference to decommissioning and abandonment, the system owner and the owner of the land on which the solar facility is located shall be responsible and liable, jointly and severally, to begin removing all obsolete or unused systems, facilities and equipment within six months of cessation of operation and shall have them fully removed within 12 months.