Note: This template ordinance was designed to provide guidance to local governments that wish to develop their own regulations for the development of solar energy systems. While it was developed as part of a cooperative effort involving several state agencies, the template ordinance itself has no legal or regulatory authority. Questions about this template ordinance can be directed to one of the individuals listed in the template ordinance, which is linked above.
In December, 2013 the North Carolina Solar Center and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association published a template solar energy development ordinance to provide guidance for communities seeking best practices for the regulation of solar energy system development. The template was developed by a working group consisting of more than 40 individuals representing a broad range of stakeholders, including solar industry, state agencies, environmental organizations, the federal aviation administration, and others. The template ordinance covers photovoltaic as well as solar hot water projects, and classifies projects into one of three levels.
Solar Energy Systems (SES) are classified as one of three system types:
Level 1 System:
- Roof-mounted, building integrated, mounted over a parking lot, or ground-mounted and no more than half the footprint of the primary structure on the lot or 1 acre
Level 2 System:
- Ground-mounted system with a footprint of no more than ½ an acre in residential districts, no more than 10 acres in commercial/business districts, and of any size in industrial districts
Level 3 System:
- Systems that do not meet the requirements of Level 1 or 2 systems. Most solar farms are Level 3 systems.
Permit requirements are fully defined in the Template Ordinance. In summary, Level 1 systems are a permitted use, also known as “permitted by right”. Level 2 systems must meet SES Development Standards as laid out in the template ordinance, this is also known as a Limited Use permit in some jurisdictions. Level 3 systems require a special use or conditional use permit, which is a common permit type that requires a public permit hearing.
Parcel Line Setbacks
The Template Ordinance provides the Parcel Line setback to ground mounted SES equipment, excluding any security fencing, poles, and wires necessary to connect to facilities of the electric utility.
Height limitations for all systems are specified in the Template Ordinance. Utility poles and any antennas constructed for the project are exempt from these limits.
The aviation notification requirements apply only to Level 1, 2, & 3 systems over half (½) an acre in size. Every such system must notify the NC Commanders Council of the intent to construct the SES. Also, such a system must submit a map analysis indicating if there are any airports within 5 nautical miles of the proposed solar energy system. If there is an airport in this 5 nautical mile radius the applicant must go online to Sandia National Laboratory’s Solar Glare Hazard Analysis Tool and conduct a glare hazard analysis for the proposed system. The notification of intent to construct the SES and the results of the glare analysis must be submitted to the correct airport authority 30 days before the permit hearing or 45 days before construction begins for systems not requiring a permit hearing.
Levels 2 & 3 Solar Energy System Requirements
i. SESs shall be constructed with buffering as required by the applicable zoning district or development standards (Appendix J in the template provides solar visual buffering example standards).
ii. Public signage (i.e. advertising, educational, etc.) as permitted by local signage ordinance, including appropriate or required security and safety signage.
iii. If lighting is provided at site, lighting shall be shielded and downcast such that the light does not spill onto the adjacent parcel or the night sky. Motion sensor control is preferred.
A decommissioning plan signed by the party responsible for decommissioning and the landowner (if different) and registered with the Register of Deeds addressing the following shall be submitted with permit application.
1. Defined conditions upon which decommissioning will be initiated (i.e. end of land lease, no power production for 12 months, etc.)
2. Removal of all non-utility owned equipment, conduit, structures, fencing, roads, and foundations
3. Restoration of property to condition prior to development of the SES.
4. The timeframe for completion of decommissioning activities.
5. Description of any agreement (e.g. lease) with landowner regarding decommissioning.
6. The party currently responsible for decommissioning.
7. Plans for updating this decommissioning plan.