BEATRICE – The Gage County Planning Commission has forwarded proposed regulations governing residential and commercial solar energy projects to the Gage County Board.

Making minor adjustments of wording on noise levels and requiring a weed or vegetation maintenance plan around commercial establishments, the commission left intact setbacks it had determined, from property lines of non-participating owners.

The rules cover four classes of solar installations….residential, and three classes of commercial operations. The largest of the commercial categories, Class Four, is for solar farms of greater than two megawatts. Such operations would carry a one-eighth mile setback from the property line of a non-participating property. The setback would be a half-mile from non-participating homes, platted subdivisions and platted villages that are not zoned. The setback would be three-quarters of a mile from the property line of churches, schools, NRD recreation areas and the Homestead National Historical Park.

Friends of the Homestead President, Don Fernading, spoke of the park’s wish to preserve its viewshed.  "We would be in favor of not having a distant setback at all, as it pertains to Homestead National Historical Park...but to have a regulation to require a viewshed study done at the time of an application for a solar farm. The reason for this is that there are many areas surrounding the park, that a solar farm could be placed, much less than a fourth-of-a-mile away. Our interest is only in not being able to see it. All we want to do is not be able to see the solar farm...and would like the chance to weigh in on an application so that our national park's viewshed is protected."

The Homestead sits adjacent to a housing subdivision and not far from an industrial area, northwest of the national park.

One resident, Kelly Lenners, asked that the commission consider a greater setback.  "I'm also still asking, as I did the last hearing, that for all classes when we talk about platted subdivisions, churches, schools and public parks and towns and villages, that you may reconsider the setback from a quarter mile, or half-mile, to a full mile for all four of those types of properties."

Kelly Lenners, of Adams

 Gage County Supervisor Don Schuller, who said he was speaking on his own behalf….not the supervisors, feels the setbacks are already too stringent.

"These setbacks will restrict development of solar out of the entire county. There are areas of the county that would like to have solar development. Economic development is needed. Gage County spends a lot of money and time in promoting economic development. These regulations, in my opinion, are a giant step backwards. We don't have a corner on the market, on when solar companies find these too restrictive, there going to look somewhere else. It's that simple. And, we will not have alternative energy in Gage County."

The commission rejected an attempt to recommend larger setbacks. On the issue of potential glare or reflection from solar panels, commission members seemed satisfied that those issues could be considered separately when a specific solar development permit application is considered for approval.

The commission’s vote to forward the amended regulations to the Gage County board was 6-0. A public hearing before the county board on the regulations has been scheduled for April 5th, at 9:30 a.m.