BOCC wants bigger buffers for solar facilities

Bigger buffers and more tree canopy are two ways that the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) are addressing concerns about future solar facilities.

County staff from planning, growth management and sustainability departments presented to the BOCC on Tuesday recommendations for amendments in current policies regarding solar and other renewable energy issues.

In July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 896 into law forcing municipalities to allow solar facilities to be “a permitted use in all agricultural land use categories in a local government’s comprehensive plan and all agricultural zoning districts within an unincorporated area.”

The bill does allow counties to adopt ordinances that control the buffer and landscaping requirements, but those requirements must be consistent and not, “exceed those of similar uses in agricultural land use categories and zoning districts,” the bill states.

The county’s current policy exempts solar facilities from retaining the 30 percent tree canopy that is required for all other developments.

There is a growing need for more renewable energy sources such as solar facilities in Alachua County according to Sean McLendon, Alachua County strategic initiatives manager.

McLendon said that the county’s goal is to reduce fossil fuel, mitigate higher energy costs and promote economic security through conservation.

He explained that the county’s goal by 2030 is to have 100 percent of its energy purchased or produced from solar sources.

“That may not be achievable,” he said at the current rate.

BOCC commissioners discussed ideas to increase the use of solar power including incentives for residential and commercial rooftop installations.

BOCC Commissioner Mary Alford said that storage of solar energy is a major priority so that energy collected can be managed.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said he wanted to, “Encourage as much solar as possible, as quickly as possible.”

The commissioners moved to direct staff to, “Continue to monitor and participate in current community discussions/initiatives such as those of the Joint Water and Climate Policy Board, Citizen Climate Advisory Committee, Alachua County NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Initiative, City of Gainesville Utility Advisory Board, and others regarding solar and other renewable energy issues, and report back to the BOCC with recommendations or ideas resulting from those discussions.”

They also directed staff to re-evaluate the, “County Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use and Energy Element policies on solar, and suggest any changes needed to better articulate and implement the County Commission’s priorities on solar and other renewable energy.”

The BOCC voted unanimously to have staff bring back an amended policy that no longer exempts solar projects from retaining 30 percent tree canopy, establish a minimum 75 foot buffer with a 150 foot buffer for residential developments, and to direct staff to look for ideal potential places for future large scale solar facilities.

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