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County gives OK for solar farm to take root

POSTED: December 19, 2013 7:22 p.m.

The kind of farm granted a variance Tuesday night by Effingham County commissioners could be growing in popularity.


Commissioners agreed to allow a solar farm on five acres off Stillwell-Clyo Road, granting a variance for its use. The five acres are part of a larger tract that is zoned AR-1.


Installation of the solar panels will take about eight weeks, said Steve Chiariello, a principal with Atlanta-based Inman Solar and could be finished in the middle of March.


“When it’s finished, the project essentially will be very low maintenance,” he said. “Our expectation is that no one will even know it’s there.”


The solar farm, with 3,322 panels, will produce 1 megawatt of energy to be sold back to Georgia Power. Inman Solar is partnering with SOS Solar to install and operate the project. Chiariello expects the solar farm to be in operation for 25 years.


“There are no emissions from a system like this,” Chiariello said. “It makes no noise and there is no radiation or any health concerns whatsoever. Once we complete it, we expect it to sit there and go unnoticed.”


The planning board OK’d the request, adding one condition, at its September meeting. The request was tabled in October and November before coming back before commissioners.


Planning board members required, and commissioners acceded, a six-foot-high vegetative buffer so the solar farm could not be seen from the road. Chiariello said they will install a green screen approximately eight to nine feet tall.


“The buffer is a good thing,” said Commissioner Steve Mason. “I think that really makes a difference.”


Mason said he has been asked about the proposed solar farm, which is in his district, but no one has voiced opposition to it.


The company has five other solar farms in Georgia under Georgia Power’s program. Three are in Polk County and two in Marion County. Asked by Commissioner Forrest Floyd how the other counties handled their zoning, Chiariello said the trend across the state is more toward the exact usage and process Effingham was pursuing.


The Georgia Power program to purchase power generated from solar farms will enter its second year next year, and Chiariello said the effort is expected to double. The company is looking at adding 10 similar projects next year.


The property also is in a conservation easement, and Chiariello said any back taxes will be paid. The company also will pay $20,000 to the county for breaking the CUVA.


Commissioners also questioned placing such a use on what is agricultural land.


“I’m not opposed to it,” said Commissioner Phil Kieffer. “At what point are we going to allow industrial and commercial uses on agricultural property?”


Commissioner Forrest Floyd said it is power generation, which is different from industrial use.

Inman Solar is leasing the property from landowner Harris B. Rahn Jr., and commission Chairman Wendall Kessler asked if the conditional use extended to the whole property. County planning director George Shaw said the variance would apply only to the five acres, which have not yet been cut out from the tract.


Kessler also said he preferred to have a plat in hand. Shaw told commissioners he would not a sign a plat for the solar farm that was larger than the five acres currently sought.


Chiariello said the estimated net present value of the project is about $200,000.

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