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Solar amendments hearing held

No recommendation was brought before the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors following a joint public hearing between the Charlotte County Planning Commission and the Supervisors Monday night regarding solar use amendments in the county.

“At this time, the Planning Commission is not ready to bring that before the board due to some of the comments that we received last night,” said County Purchaser and Planner Monica Elder. “We did seek some advice from our attorney and we’re waiting on a response …”

Elder said she anticipated the matter would come before the Board at the July meeting of the Supervisors.

During the hearing, Charlotte Court House resident Terry Ramsey said his comments were primarily related to utility scale solar energy systems and addressed factors such as the density percentage, density definition, comprehensive plan, clarity and consistency of phrase “owner or occupant”, land owner responsibility, minimum setback, buffer, safety/emergency services, neighborhood meeting and towns.

He said prior to approving any additional solar energy facilities, he would recommend the county’s comprehensive plan be updated to address solar energy facilities.

Additionally, he said while the ordinance proposed a maximum of 3 percent of land area, equaling 1,500 acres, for utility scale solar systems within a five mile radius, he would recommend 2 percent.

“This 2 percent was included in earlier Planning Commission drafts and would be a compromise allowing for economically viable facilities as well as giving other land owners an opportunity to profit from solar facilities,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey also said expressed concerns regarding the minimum setback and buffer in light of the larger sized facilities.

“With the change to allow for larger facilities, it is important that the setbacks and buffers also be larger to protect neighbors,” said Ramsey.

While the proposed minimum setback is 50 feet, he recommended a minimum of 150 feet.

“With the large increase in the size of the facilities, the buffer becomes more important,” he said. While the proposed ordinance only requires a landscaped buffer of 25 feet wide, Ramsey recommended a minimum of 100 feet wide for a buffer.

“I thank you for your attention and patience in my detailed presentation,” said Ramsey. “However, the details are very important to ensure consistency, fairness and responsible solar facility development and establish clear requirements to protect the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors from political pressure such as the “who” of who may be applying for a solar permit.”

He said the Planning Commission had allowed an outsider from a firm that represents a likely utility scale facility to speak freely at meetings as if he were a member of the commission.

“The outsider was allowed to interrupt and refute county staff statements,” said Ramsey. “I believe this outsider significantly influenced the proposed ordinance. No similar opportunity was provided to the public for their input in developing the proposed ordinance,” Ramsey said.

Solunesco CEO Francis Hodsoll said “I think Mr. Ramsey was referencing me when he said that I was speaking a lot, I was trying to offer some information to the county.”

He said several reports were commissioned and the point was not to influence the process.

“I’d really like to commend Monica and really the county, because they’ve been very open … the point is to work with these companies that are developing these projects and figure out what is the best for the county,” said Hodsoll.

At an April meeting of the Charlotte County Planning Commission, action regarding the previous proposed zoning amendments was tabled.

“They requested an assessment to determine the capacity of Charlotte County’s existing transmission lines and associated infrastructure in order to gain a better understanding of the amount of solar development that the existing transmission lines could support,” said Elder previously in March.