Under existing law, most development projects (including energy facilities) receive land use permits at the city or county level. But some energy facilities instead must obtain land use approval at the state level, from EFSC. Specifically, any proposed photovoltaic solar energy facility must receive an EFSC permit if it would use at least 160 acres of high-value farmland, 1,280 acres of non-high-value farmland that is currently in cultivation or composed of soils suitable for cultivation, or 1,920 acres of any other land. The new rules make clear that when calculating how much land is used, one must include not only the land taken up by the solar panels themselves, but also related posts, cabling, electrical equipment, fencing, transmission lines, and other “related or supporting facilities.”
The new rules also attempt to resolve a more controversial issue – exactly what constitutes a single “project” for purposes of applying the acreage limitations. Now, two or more “projects” will be considered a single project if they are within one mile of each other and are “connected to the same parent company or individuals … regardless of the operating business structure.” Two projects can be considered a single project even if one of the projects is already built; in that circumstance the new project is considered an expansion of the existing project.
EFSC has also adopted procedures so that developers or any other interested party can get a ruling early on as to whether a proposed project stands alone or will be considered as part of another project.
Since EFSC permitting can be a drawn-out and expensive process, early clarity as to whether the process is mandatory will be helpful to developers and local communities alike in planning and developing more solar projects on time and on budget. Hopefully these new rules will bring that desired early clarity to the permitting process.