8 Things to Know about the solar farm zoning amendment being considered by the Metro Council tonight

According to Silicon Ranch, their solar panels are non-reflective and produce no more electric and magnetic fields (EMF) than a personal computer. They often graze sheep beneath them. (File Photo)

LOCAL NEWS — In April of this year, Moore County received some exciting news when Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced that a Nashville-based solar energy company named Silicon Ranch planned to build a 200-megawatt capacity solar farm in Moore County on land previously owned by the Cumberland Springs Land Company. It is an over $100 million investment in renewable energy — the largest solar project ever announced in the state of Tennessee — and it’s happening in one of its smallest counties. (To read our full coverage of that solar farm announcement, click here.)

As with any planned and measured growth, local government must think through the zoning and regulations of such projects in order to protect citizens. That’s exactly what the Metro Planning Commission has been up to for several months. During the September Metro Council meeting, the Commission presented a Resolution to amend the text of the Metro Zoning Ordinance to establish regulations for Solar Energy Systems on A-1 (agricultural or forestry) land in Moore County. The first reading of Ordinance 4.140 passed unanimously. There will be a public meeting tonight at 6:20 p.m. to hear public comment for or against moving forward with the required second and third reading.

Here’s some things you need to know about this project:

1 | The public hearing and second reading will address zoning only. The Metro Council has the ability to approve or deny changes to the zoning ordinances. The vote they will take tonight has no legal authority to approve or reject any solar project by any specific company.

2 | The exact location of the solar farm is not yet decided. During the zoning meetings, Silicon Ranch representatives mentioned land along Highway 55 between Tullahoma and Motlow College near the existing TVA transition lines. However, state soil testing isn’t yet complete, and so the exact location of the 2,000 acre farm is not yet finalized.

3 | The land will remain agricultural. The Metro Planning Commission and Silicon Ranch both agree that the land should remain A-1 (agricultural) and not commercial or industrial. One of the aims of this project is to rehabilitate the land back to a functioning shortgrass ecosystem and one of the ways they will do that is by introducing sheep grazing on site. A commercial or industrial designation would mean that if Silicon Ranch vacates after their lease, a “dirty industry” could come in behind them. This in no way affects the tax rate as solar farm tax rates are set by the state.

4 | Moore County solar power goes to the grid. TVA sells green energy like that from solar farms in blocks to large capacity users.  The solar energy produced here will be sold to TVA and distributed by local and regional utilities like Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative (DREMC) to specific buyers. One of the biggest buyers of the solar energy that will be produced in Metro Lynchburg Moore County will be Metro Nashville Davidson County. They have agreed to buy half of the the 200-megawatts that will be produced locally. Other buyers include the Knoxville Utility District, the Vanderbilt University system, and our very own Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

5| It will produce short term construction jobs. In addition to the capital investment, the solar farm’s construction will also produce around 500 short term construction jobs. Also, Silicon Ranch will purchase, not lease, the land meaning an immediate bump in property tax revenues as solar farms are taxed at a higher rate set by the state.

6 | Solar farms are not new to southern, middle Tennessee. Last year, Silicon Ranch announced a 35-megawatt facility in Bell Buckle that will come online in 2022. The Tullahoma Utilities Authority also utilizes solar as part of their energy generation. Anyone driving from Lynchburg to Huntsville has likely spotted the acres of solar in Parks City.

7 | Solar panel are completely safe. According to Silicon Ranch, the solar panels themselves produce zero electromagnetic fields (EMF), but the DC and AC cables that connect the panels to the inverters and the transmission line at the point of interconnection to the grid do generate a negligible amount of EMF. In total, they produce no more EMF than your personal computer. They are also now made of non-reflective materials that do not reflect back toward roads or homes.

8 | Ordinance contains development standards. The Planning Commission built the ordinance with our citizens in mind. It contains development standards like fencing, setbacks, landscape buffering, access to emergency contacts, and a plan should a solar farm ever decide to decommission a site.

The public hearing will begin at 6:20 p.m. at the Lynchburg Legion Building located at 119 Booneville Highway. All Metro Council meetings are open to the general public. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only locally owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}