Franklin County’s next frontier may lie with renewable energy. As of now, there are no renewable energy companies doing business in the county, but officials believe it is only a matter of time.
County planning director Larry Walrod and the county planning commission developed building codes and zoning guidelines for companies wanting to come into the county. Walrod began reviewing other county policies months ago.
“It has been a lengthy process,” Walrod said. “We have reviewed it pretty thoroughly. I had information from at least 14 counties. We have had input in at least one solar development.”
Walrod presented amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations for renewable companies to the county commissioners this week. It passed unanimously.
“What we are doing is setting a standard,” Commissioner Ianne Dickinson said. “If a homeowner wants to consider doing something on their land or a company considers coming into our county, this is the criteria that they have to meet.”
Walrod said the county needed to be proactive in setting these guidelines before those renewable energy companies looked at coming into the county.
“What we are trying to do is get in front of this and not have a situation arising where somebody wants to put in something of that nature and we have no provisions for it,” he said. “There are no applications at this time. There may be interest, especially in solar energy facilities. We had not any interest at this time in wind-related facilities.”
Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said officials attempted to put together regulations that were good for the companies and landowners.
“We are not pioneers when it comes to renewable energy,” Brown said. “We were able to look at 14 separate counties and understand what worked for them and what did not work for them. [We looked at] parts of their regulations that were ideal and parts that weren’t. We were able to pull the best from them and create a comprehensive plan. The planning commission had numerous hearings and got great feedback from the public and provided that to Larry.”
Walrod said he learned a great deal from other counties in how they have dealt with the renewable energy issue.
“The major focus was to address those areas that other communities have had and their experiences with certain impacts,” he said. “Very few of the counties have focused in on solar energy facilities at this time. Only 20 counties have building codes. It opened our eyes to some of the impacts that might not otherwise be recognized. It allowed us to address those before they become issues in Franklin County. One of the things that was educational that there are several counties involved that don’t have zoning. They are in the process now of trying to develop zoning regulations. It has really created chaos for those county governments. They are confronted with the fact there are renewable energy companies that want to locate in their counties. They have no regulations or anything.”
Walrod said one of the highlights of the regulations was a chance for the cities in the county to have a voice before a company decides to set up near their city.
“One of the highlights was whether or not to grant any special authority to cities that might be impacted if these facilities were to develop in close proximity,” Walrod said. “The way it is structured, there will be hearings for the special-use permits, so the cities will be notified in the event that we have any of those facilities coming on board. They will have an opportunity to voice their opinions before the planning commission and the county commissioners. It allows the cities to be heard on an individual basis.”
Many of the regulations dealt with what information companies needed to disclose before building, such as what needs to be included in a site plan, noise standards, setbacks, access to roads, air quality, fire safety and emergency plan, visual impact, soil erosion control, storm water runoff and proof of insurance.
“We are happy that the industry itself is happy with the regulations,” Walrod said. “We have addressed most of the concerns that were raised by the public, as well as providing for protection of most of the major negative impacts that might be related to these facilities. We are trying to get in front of this, because there does seem to be some real interest in the solar [facilities]. We have not heard from the wind energy people much. Solar energy has been involved throughout the entire process.”