A proposed solar ordinance received a partly cloudy response from two Commissioners last week. As a result, it is being shelved for now.

The Henry County Commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday to ban all commercial solar projects in Henry County. Commissioner Ed Tarantino said the intent is to lift the moratorium after Henry County has a solar ordinance in place.

That same evening, Tarantino and fellow Commissioner Steve Dellinger voted to reject a proposed solar ordinance sent to them by the county planning commission. Outgoing Commissioner Ed Yanos favored the ordinance.

Tarantino said it was “a reasonably good ordinance” but that revisions are still needed.

“We do represent the people of the county and I want to give them an opportunity to suggest some changes,” Tarantino said. “I don’t think we’re far away from passing a solar ordinance but at this time I would make a motion to table it.”

Tarantino’s motion to table failed for lack of a second. He then made to motion to reject the proposed ordinance all together.

Dellinger, who seconded Tarantino’s motion to reject the ordinance, said setbacks and right-of-way issues still concerned him.

“When you look out your front door, you should have a reasonable expectation of what you’re going to see,” Dellinger said. “I had people express that same concern. When you look out your window, nobody wants to be looking at a solar field.”

But Yanos said the hesitation was unfounded and unfair to those who had worked so hard to write the ordinance.

“I think that’s a matter of disrespect for the work that (Zoning Administrator) Darrin (Jacobs) and the planning commission put into this,” Yanos said.

Jacobs said the ordinance has been more than a year in the making, including many public meetings and comments. He said ample opportunity was given for public input. Feedback on the ordinance included some who said it was too restrictive and others who said it wasn’t restrictive enough, leading Jacobs to believe that perhaps middle ground had been found.

Jacobs also stressed the ordinance could be amended at any point.

“If it’s raining outside and someone hands you an umbrella, you don’t say, ‘no, I want a tailored rain coat, I don’t want an umbrella,’” Jacobs said. “The planning commission is offering you an umbrella. It may not be exactly what you want today, but at least it will satisfy the need for having a solar ordinance on the books.”

“We wanted to craft something that would satisfy the majority of the citizens in Henry County,” Yanos said. “I think what has come out of our discussions in my opinion accomplished that goal. You want protection against somebody coming in and not complying with an ordinance.”

“This ordinance is good. I appreciate all the work that went into it, but it is not 100 percent,” Tarantino replied.

The solar discussion became a bit heated after Yanos called out the new team of commissioners on what he believed their true agenda was.

“You do not want to see solar in Henry County,” Yanos said.

The comment drew a strong and immediate response from Bobbi Plummer, who will take over for Yanos as Southern District Commissioner in January.

“Don’t be putting words in my mouth before I’m sitting in that chair,” Plummer said directly to Yanos. Then she said, “if that’s how you want to go out, go out that way.”

Tarantino was asked to explain why he wasn’t upset about a recent 700-acre solar farm that received approval here, yet now, is balking about language in the solar ordinance.

“The solar company did offer a property value guarantee,” Tarantino said. “It affected very few homes in Henry County, only 10 to 12. Some of the people renting the land actually own four of those homes so we’re talking about a very small number of homes.

“If we’re talking about those proposals covering 1,000 acres or more, you are most likely going to have more homes impacted by solar farms that size,” Tarantino continued. “So, I did not have a big objection to the one that’s already proposed. It’s over 700 acres. I stated publicly that I thought it was a good project. The only problem I had was I wanted them to wait until we passed the ordinance. So, you can think what you think, but I think our intention is to pass a good ordinance, not to rush into it.”

Tarantino stressed to Yanos he didn’t expect or want the planning commission to start over.

“I don’t want to rewrite the whole ordinance,” Tarantino said. “I don’t want to throw it out and start all over. I think you’re mischaracterizing what’s going on here.”

Yanos disagreed.

“Well, I would say that when people submit page after page after page of suggested revisions...three hours before the vote....it appears to be more an effort to kill what the planning commission had been considering than to offer concrete, sound suggestions,” Yanos said.

The Henry County Planning Commission approved the solar ordinance in November. Although the county commissioners rejected that plan, it will legally go into effect 90 days after the planning commission vote – Feb. 18, 2021 – if the Henry County Commissioners do not offer any amendments to the solar ordinance.

WIND TURBINE SETBACKS

After tabling the solar ordinance proposal, Tarantino joined Dellinger in amending wind turbine setback regulations to be 3,300 feet from any property or boundary line, with the distance measured from the center of the foundation of the wind turbine. That’s more than double the previous setback. Yanos voted no.

Some believe that kind of requirement effectively puts an end to wind farm development in Henry County.

On Facebook, Annie Wilson expressed elation at the change.

“Thank you gentlemen for the final end to the atrocious 1,500 foot setback to your homes foundation!” she said.

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