By John Fryar Longmont Times-Call
Posted: 04/20/2011 06:00:00 AM MDT

The county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve land-use regulations that could lead to installing more community solar gardens on private rural Boulder County properties.

The new rules — which the commissioners still have to adopt as a formal resolution amending Boulder County’s Land Use Code — will include requirements and restrictions for where property owners can seek permission to erect solar arrays in unincorporated parts of the county.

Those solar gardens, with each shared location having to have at least 10 subscribers who live in Boulder County, could sell the electricity that’s produced to an investor-owned utility like Xcel.

The commissioners said Tuesday that they hope the regulations will balance the county’s support for renewable energy sources with Boulder County government’s goal of preserving prime farmland for continued agricultural use.

They made several changes to the regulations recommended by the county staff and the county Planning Commission.

But County Commissioner Will Toor said he agrees with the county Planning Commission’s position “that Boulder County should be sending a message that it supports solar power.”

Most solar arrays that might result from the new county rules will be small-scale solar gardens and commercial solar energy systems, Toor said.

Toor also said that because of overall limits state law sets for the amount of renewable energy that investor-owned utilities can buy from customers who have installed community solar gardens, “I don’t think we’re throwing the floodgates open” to a proliferation of such facilities in Boulder County.

“Anything that happens is going to be incremental,” he said.

Said Commissioner Ben Pearlman: “I think our goal is to allow these to go forward, hopefully in the most appropriate area.”

But Pearlman also emphasized that he’d like any solar panel arrays to be “packed as closely as they can be,” so that they’d have minimal “footprints” on the property and would encourage efficient use of the land.

Boulder County’s regulations and the county’s level of review scrutiny would increase with the amount of energy a proposed solar garden would produce.

For both small or medium-size solar systems, the rules say that the solar array “shall not have a significant adverse visual impact on the natural features or neighborhood character of the surrounding area.”

Medium-size facilities — those generating at least 500 kilowatts of electricity — would be permitted in a Boulder County forestry zoning district “only if the area … has been contaminated or damaged in the past, making it unsuitable for agricultural, forestry or residential uses.”

Medium-size solar energy systems would be allowed in an agricultural zoning district only if the area hasn’t been designated in Boulder County’s comprehensive plan as “significant agricultural lands of national or statewide importance.”

The commissioners decided Tuesday that no solar garden arrays can be installed on privately owned properties where future development is restricted by conservation easements held by Boulder County or other units of government.

Boulder County Commissioners OK Solar Garden Rules

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