KEARNEY — Guiding the development and safety of solar energy installations is the purpose behind proposed regulations the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners will discuss Tuesday.
Already a number of personal-size solar arrays have been installed on property in Buffalo County. In neighboring counties, larger commercial-size systems are being built, so there now is a need to standardize safety requirements and other aspects of solar installations, Deputy Buffalo County Attorney Andy Hoffmeister said last week.
He had begun drafting proposed regulations in August, but when the proposal went before the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners in September, a county resident urged the governing board to seek more input before adopting Hoffmeister’s proposal.
Joe Johnson, whose house in Antelope Estates northeast of Kearney is equipped with a 32-cell solar array, addressed the county board in September. Johnson is a former city manager from David City, Nebraska City and South Sioux City, but he now is employed at the Olsson Associates engineering firm in Kearney.
Johnson told the board in September he had attempted to get a county permit for the solar energy system he was installing at his rural house, and discovered the county had no regulations or permit process.
The board tabled the solar regulations, and Johnson assisted Hoffmeister in redrafting the proposal. Also assisting were Nebraska Public Power District and Bobby Johnson, a compliance engineer with Dawson Public Power District, which serves central and western Buffalo County. Hoffmeister said input from the two Johnsons was invaluable in drafting the proposal for Buffalo County. He said he also consulted with Lincoln County about its regulations and studied regulations from Keith and Kearney counties.
Hoffmeister said he appreciates that Joe Johnson, the former city manager, shared his knowledge during the commissioners’ August discussion of solar energy regulations.
“That’s the beauty of a public meeting. You learn stuff, and you come up with a better set of regulations and that will help in development and monitoring development, not hinder or be a barrier,” Hoffmeister said about the private input and assistance.
Joe Johnson said the proposed regulations likely will promote continued investment in solar energy systems.
Hoffmeister said standardizing should ease the way as more residents and businesses in Buffalo County erect solar energy systems. He expects to see many more solar arrays being built or added to residential sites as the systems become more efficient.
Such improvements also could broaden the county’s tax base, Hoffmeister said.
The regulations will define terms for solar energy installations and address the technology from a two-tier perspective.
Smaller personal installations will produce 25 kilowatts of energy or less. Larger commercial arrays will produce more than 25 kilowatts.
Permits for either large or small systems will cost $125, Hoffmeister said. A public hearing will be required before permits for larger systems are issued.
The regulations address where on residential property solar collectors can be erected or fastened to homes. Hoffmeister said roof-mounted systems must leave walking space. In the event of a fire, the walking space will give firefighters room to battle attic blazes.
Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting is open to the public and begins at 9 a.m. in the board room in the northeast corner of the Buffalo County Courthouse, 1512 Central Ave.