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Walworth County officials wants more details on large-scale solar arrays

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, December 17, 2017

ELKHORNYou don't know what you don't know.

That's why Walworth County Supervisor Susan Pruessing wants the county's planning and zoning committee to get more information about the impact of a large scale solar array.

Solar arrays became an issue earlier this year when the Chicago-based company Invenergy began negotiations with Walworth County landowners about installing solar panel arrays on their land.

The company hopes to build two arrays, each requiring about 1,400 acres, Invenergy project consultant Neil Palmer told The Gazette. One would be built west of Darien along Interstate 43, and the other would be located in the towns of Sharon and Walworth. Both areas are primarily farmland.

“I'm not advocating for the project either way,” Pruessing said. “I just want the county to be proactive on these things.”

Pruessing wants the county's planning and zoning department to look at the county ordinances already on the books and make sure they are up to date.

She's not an expert on solar arrays and wants to make sure the county has all the facts about potential impacts.

“We have such a beautiful landscape here,” Pruessing said. “People come here because of it. Would this impact tourism? I don't know the answer to that.”

Chapter 65 of the Walworth County Code of Ordinances covers renewable energy systems. The chapter specifically addresses large and small wind energy systems.

Solar energy systems also are covered, but the system size is not directly addressed.

Rules for solar energy systems include:

-- Solar energy systems are permitted in all zoning classifications where buildings are permitted. Certain types of buildings such as barns and stables can be built on agricultural land.

-- Zoning permits are required for solar energy systems except when the system does not extend more than 18 inches from the exterior of the building.

-- Ground-mounted/pole-mounted solar energy systems need conditional-use permits if the system is more than 21 feet high and exceeds a 12.5-kilowatt-rated capacity per parcel.

-- People can apply for a conditional-use permit for a solar energy system that doesn't meet the regulations.

To get a conditional-use permit, the system must be set back 50 feet from the property lines and 75 feet from the high water mark.

Under the regulations on the books, the planning and zoning committee will grant a conditional-use permit if it determines the system “will not unreasonably interfere with the orderly land use and development plans for the county."

The committee also can consider other things, such as the proximity to lines to link the system to the electrical power grid, the number of solar collectors and their locations, land use on nearby properties, possible adverse effects on migratory birds, raptors and other wildlife, and the recommendation—or lack of one—from the town board where the array will be built.

Chapter 74 of the county's code of ordinances, which covers zoning, says a conditional-use permit is needed to place utilities on agricultural land.

Pruessing expects the solar arrays issue will be taken up at the next planning and zoning meeting Jan. 18, when the committee will discuss asking the planning and zoning department to get more information. If the committee agrees, the issue would come before the county board.



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