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Solar/wind energy facility zoning on hold

The county’s Planning Commission was scheduled to hear a proposed ordinance regulating the zoning of solar and wind energy systems on April 2, but late information caused a 7-0 vote to return the matter to county Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) staff for further review.

“In the last several days we’ve received a large amount of correspondence that requires staff’s attention,” said DPLU Project Planning Division chief Jason Giffen.

In February 2009 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors directed county staff to streamline the regulations for wind turbine systems by developing a two-tiered ordinance intended to separate small systems for property use from large systems utilized for off-site sales.

DPLU staff opted to include on-site and off-site solar energy systems in its review to create a comprehensive renewable energy section of the Zoning Ordinance.

The current Zoning Ordinance stipulates height limits and minimum parcel sizes for small, medium, and large wind energy systems. Small wind energy systems are defined as one wind turbine on one tower of up to 60 feet in height with a blade length limit of eight feet.

Such systems are allowed by right with a building permit, although the setback must be at least twice the system’s height. A one-acre minimum parcel size is required for a small system.

A lot of at least one acre is also required for medium systems, which also have a 60-foot height limit and consist of one or two turbines on one or two towers. The blade length limit is 16-and-a-half feet for one blade or for two combined blades. The minimum

setback distance is three times the system height, and an Administrative Permit is required along with a building permit.

Large wind energy systems require a minimum five-acre parcel and are restricted to no more than 80 feet in height with blade length limited to 45 feet. A Major Use Permit is required, although that MUP can also set its own height in excess of the height limit and can set its own setbacks and its own blade size.

In the absence of a variance, the minimum setback is four times the height from property lines or public roads and eight times the height from residences or buildings with a civic use. The number of turbines for a large system is not limited.

Current solar energy regulations allow on-site systems by right as an accessory to typical agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial uses, although that right is not codified in the current Zoning Ordinance, while requiring a Major Use Permit in all zones for systems which generate power for off-site distribution.

The proposed amendment will consolidate wind turbine systems into small and large systems. Small systems would be limited to three turbine systems with a maximum height of 100 feet and no blade length limit, and the size of the entire system would be limited to 50 kilowatts per property.

More than three turbines for small systems would be allowed with an Administrative Permit, although the permit could not waive the 100 foot height limit or the 50 kW generation limit. The minimum setback from the property line would be the distance of the tower’s height.

Large systems would be defined as any system greater than 50 kW or exceeding 100 feet in height. A Major Use Permit would be required, and the large wind turbine section would include a provision requiring compliance with published California guidelines to reduce impacts to birds and bats. The minimum setback distance of three times the system height and at least 600 feet from a property line could be waived if the adjacent property owner supports a setback reduction, and noise compliance measures may increase the required setback distance. Blade length would not be limited.

The revisions also cover meteorological testing equipment, which would be allowed by right if those facilities meet the zoned property’s height limit.

The county supervisors’ February 2009 meeting approved the installation of test facilities with an Administrative Permit, replacing the previous Major Use Permit requirement.

The proposed solar energy regulations would allow photovoltaic systems for on-site use as an accessory to agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial uses, thus codifying existing practice. Although excess power produced may be sold back to utilities, on-site use status would be granted if a majority of the power produced is used on-site.

Photovoltaic systems for off-site use utilizing less than 10 acres in area would be allowed with an Administrative Permit, while photovoltaic systems for off-site use utilizing more than 10 acres or any other solar energy system for off-site use would

require a Major Use Permit.

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