It required two votes to pass. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission officially approved the second phase of a big projected solar farm east of Lincoln on Wednesday (17 November). Ranger Power was granted a special permit to install solar panels on around 1,430 acres of land between 148th and 190th streets, as well as from O Street to the Havelock Avenue, by a 6-1 decision of the commissioners.
On October 27, the commission voted to grant a special permit for the second half of the planned 250-megawatt farm, which is located in the city’s regulatory jurisdiction and stretches from 120th to the 148th streets as well as from O to Havelock. However, they were unable to pass the county component, owing to a provision that permits solar panels to be installed on agricultural outlots, which was met with great opposition from local residents.
The commission had advised against amending the county zoning rule to enable solar panels on current agricultural outlots earlier this year, yet the Lancaster County Board ignored the recommendation and chose to do so. As a result, acreage owners who purchased homes in the agricultural community unit designs under the assumption that the huge outlots would have none but open space or even farming activities suddenly have solar panels approximately 300 feet from their homes.
Due to the outlot issue, several commissioners voted against approving the special permission on Wednesday. However, they fell short of the requisite five votes. Commissioner Dick Campbell, who proposed the denial, called the planned solar farm “a wonderful concept,” but said that he believes the company could find sufficient “raw farm acreage” to place its solar panels instead of outlots.
Campbell voted against the permit, along with Commissioners Lorenzo Ball Jr, Rich Rodenburg, and Maribel Cruz. Commissioners voted to support the permit after hearing from the deputy county attorney, Jenifer Holloway, that the request would be stuck in the Planning Commission phase until it could get 5 votes one way or even the other, and after incorporating multiple modifications, including the one that would boost screening necessities to shield the panels’ view from neighboring homes.
Rodenburg voted against approval, but Campbell, Cruz, and Ball all altered their votes. Ordinarily, Planning Commission votes on the special permits are definitive, but they can be challenged, which appears to be the case here, bringing the subject to County Board for the public hearing.
The County Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject zoning text modifications suggested by critics of the solar farm, which would have increased necessary setbacks and reduced sound limitations on connected electrical substations, among other things.