(A)   Purpose.
      (1)   The purpose of this section is to facilitate the construction, installation, and operation of solar energy systems (SESs) in the town in a manner that promotes economic development and ensures the protection of health, safety, and welfare, while also avoiding adverse impacts to important areas such as agricultural lands, endangered species habitats, conservation lands, and other sensitive lands.
      (2)   It is the intent of this section to encourage the development of SESs that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, bolster local economic development and job creation, support the diversification of the state’s energy portfolio, strengthen energy and grid security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce local air and water pollution, and aid the state in meeting its renewable portfolio standard. This section is not intended to abridge safety, health or environmental requirements contained in other applicable codes, standards or ordinances. The provisions of this section shall not be deemed to nullify any provisions of local, state or federal law.
   (B)   Definition.  SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM (SES).  The components and subsystems required to convert solar energy into electric or thermal energy suitable for use. The area of the system includes all the land inside the perimeter of the system, which extends to any fencing. The term applies, but is not limited to, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar thermal systems, and solar hot water systems.
   (C)   Applicability.
      (1)   This section applies to the construction of any new SES within the corporate and extraterritorial jurisdiction of the town.
      (2)   An SES established prior to the effective date of this section shall remain exempt.
         (a)   Exception: Modifications to an existing SES that increases the SES area by more than 5% of the original footprint or changes the solar panel type (e.g., photovoltaic to solar thermal) shall be subject to this section.
         (b)   Maintenance and repair are not subject to this section.
         (c)   This section does not supersede regulations from local, state or federal agencies.
      (3)   Building/electrical permits required. 
Nothing in this section modifies already established building standards required to construct a SES.
      (4)   Onsite wastewater system avoidance. 
Nothing in this section modifies already established Department of Health and Human Services requirements. A SES shall not be constructed over onsite waste water systems (e.g., septic systems) unless approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.
      (5)   Stormwater permit required.  Nothing in this section modifies the requirements or exempts any SES of complying with the various stormwater jurisdictions and regulations established by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. State statute requires the acquisition of stormwater permits for construction projects that impact stormwater runoff.
      (6)   Historic districts.  Nothing in this section modifies already established State Historic Preservation Office and/or local historic district requirements, which may require additional permitting (certificates of appropriateness) to install solar energy systems in historic districts.
   (D)   Permits required.  The types of permits required for an SES are:
      (1)   Level 1 Solar Energy System (Administrative Permitted Use).  Level 1 SESs include the following:
         (a)   Roof-mounted on any code-compliant structure;
         (b)   Commercially ground-mounted on an area of up to 50% of the footprint of the primary structure on the parcel, but no more than 0.25 acres.  Excludes all residential (R-8, R-6, R-20A and R-20) and Central Business (B1) zoning districts.
         (c)   Covering permanent parking lot and other hardscape areas, but no more than 0.25 acres. Excludes all residential (R-8, R-6, R-20A and R-20) and Central Business (B1) zoning districts.
         (d)    Building/architecturally integrated solar (i.e., shingle, hanging solar, canopy, and the like).
      (2)   Level 2 Solar Energy System (Conditional Use Permit). Level 2 SESs are ground-mounted systems not included in Level 1 that meet the area restrictions listed below:
         (a)   All ground-mounted SESs that do not fall within Level 1;
         (b)   All ground-mounted SESs inside residential (R-8, R-6, R-20A and R-20) and Central Business (B1) zoning districts.
   (E)   Decommissioning.
      (1)   A decommissioning plan to ensure it is properly remediated upon the end of the project life or facility abandonment is required when permitted as a Level 2 SES and at the discretion of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Appendix A to Ordinance 2019-02 provides a sample decommissioning plan. Appendix B to Ordinance 2019-02 provides an example of an abandonment clause and information on decommissioning.
      (2)   Prior to issuance of the building permit, an approved decommissioning plan shall be recorded in the County Register of Deeds.
      (3)   The decommissioning plan shall include:
         (a)   The timeframe for completion of decommissioning activities;
         (b)   A description of any agreement (e.g., lease) with the landowner regarding decommissioning;
         (c)   An agreement between the applicant and the town prior to the beginning of construction;
         (d)   Defined conditions upon which decommissioning will be initiated;
         (e)   A list of the type of panels and material specifications being utilized at the site;
         (f)   Removal of all structures (including transmission equipment and fencing) and debris to a depth of three feet, restoration of the soil, and restoration of vegetation within six months of the end of project life or facility abandonment;
         (g)   Disturbed earth graded and re-seeded.
      (4)   The decommissioning plan shall state how the facility will be decommissioned. A professional engineer’s estimated cost is required as part of the plan. The financial resources to be used to accomplish decommissioning and the escrow agent with which the resources shall be deposited shall be listed in the plan.
      (5)   The applicant shall post a performance bond or equivalent financial instrument for decommissioning. The bond shall be in favor of the town and shall contain a replenishment obligation. Evidence of the decommissioning bond shall be in the form of a surety/performance bond or an escrow account subject to approval of the Town Attorney.
      (6)   The town shall have access to the escrow account funds, performance bond, and/or equivalent financial instrument for the expressed purpose of completing decommissioning, if not completed by the applicant within six months of the end of the project life or facility abandonment as defined.
      (7)   The town is granted the right to seek injunctive relief to effect or complete decommissioning, as well as reimbursement for costs in excess of the amount deposited in the escrow account, surety/performance bond, and/or equivalent financial instrument. The town may also file a lien against any real estate owned by the applicant or the applicant’s successor.
      (8)   The decommissioning plan and estimated cost of removal shall be updated every five  years, or upon change of ownership, and recorded in the County Register of Deeds.
      (9)   The following types of performance guarantees are permitted:
         (a)   A surety or performance bond that renews automatically;
         (b)   A certified check deposited with the Town Finance Director, as escrow agent, who will deposit the check in an interest-bearing account with all interest accruing to the applicant.
      (10)   The full amount of the surety/performance bond or certified check must remain in full force and effect until the solar farm is decommissioned and any necessary site restoration is completed.
      (11)   The land owner or tenant must notify the town when the site is abandoned.
      (12)   The landowner can request in writing that access roads and other infrastructure of value and nonhazardous be left in place and not restored to original condition.
   (F)   Aviation notification.  The following requirements apply only to Level 2 systems over half an acre in size.
      (1)   A map analysis, showing a radius of five nautical miles from the center of the SES, with any airport operations within this area highlighted, shall be submitted with the permit application.
      (2)   For consideration of potential impacts to low altitude military flight paths, notification of intent to construct the SES shall be sent to the State Commanders Council at least 30 days before the CUP hearing. Notification shall include:
         (a)   Location of SES (i.e., map, coordinates, address, or parcel ID);
         (b)   Solar technology (i.e., polycrystalline PV, monocrystalline PV, cadmium telluride PV, evacuated tube solar thermal, flat plate solar thermal, and the like);
         (c)   Approximate number of solar modules/panels;
         (d)   System mounting (i.e., fixed-tilt on flat roof, fixed-tilt ground-mount, one-axis tracking ground-mount, and the like);
         (e)   The maximum height of the array from the ground or roof surface;
         (f)   The maximum height of any new utility poles;
         (g)   Power capacity of the system, in both DC and AC Watts where applicable;
         (h)   Acreage of array and acreage of total project;
         (i)   How the project will connect (i.e., net meter, to existing distribution line, to new-distribution line, to transmission line);
         (j)   If  a substation will be constructed and, if so, provide location and size;
         (k)   For airport operations at an airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)12 within five nautical miles of the center of SES, provide required information to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Airport District Office (ADO) with oversight of North Carolina.
         (l)   If the site is with five nautical miles of aviation operation and, if so, provide the required SGHAT analysis results. The latest version of the solar glare hazard analysis tool (SGHAT), or equivalent, shall be used per its user’s manual to evaluate the solar glare aviation hazard. The full report for each flight path and observation point, as well as the contact information for the Zoning Administrator, shall be sent to the authority indicated below at least 30 days before the CUP hearing for Level 2 SESs. Proof of delivery of notification and date of delivery shall be submitted with the permit application.
   (G)   Visibility.
      (1)   SESs shall be constructed with buffering as required by the applicable zoning district or development standards (see Appendix C to Ordinance 2019-02 for solar visual buffering example standards).
      (2)   Public signage (i.e., advertising, educational, and the like) as permitted by local signage ordinance, including appropriate or required security and safety signage.
      (3)   If 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.
(Ord. 2019-02, passed 4-1-2019)