Bill would regulate use of solar energy facilities on ag land

LIHU‘E — A bill recently introduced at the Kaua‘i County Council by request of the administration intends to promote the “effective and efficient use of solar energy facilities.” But not at the expense of Kaua‘i’s “best agricultural lands,” according to an amendment unanimously approved by the council’s Planning Committee Wednesday.

Current state law allows solar farms without a special use permit on agricultural lands rated B and below. The amended version of Bill 2424 would prompt developers of solar farms on ag B lands to seek a special use permit.

On July 11, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law Act 217, amending the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes to allow solar farms to be placed on lands with soil classified by the State of Hawai‘i Land Study Bureau with an overall productivity rating of B, C, D or E. For lands classified B or C, however, a solar farm can not occupy more than 10 acres or 20 percent of the land, whichever is less.

County Planning Director Michael Dahilig said he thinks the state allowed solar farms on ag B lands due to a race to meet renewable energy goals.

“While recognizing the importance of alternative energy, the county desires to reserve our best agricultural lands for farming, and not allow the agricultural value of our agricultural lands to be diminished by non-agricultural uses. Until the county designates its Important Agricultural Lands, it is premature to allow the development of solar energy facilities on lands with B-rated soils,” states the amendment introduced by Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura.

She said the amendment doesn’t stop siting of solar farms on ag B lands.

“It just gives you a more deliberate process of determining whether or not to allow them on B lands,” Yukimura said, adding that there would be a public hearing and a use permit application process. “It doesn’t stop it if all demands will be covered through use permits.”

Yukimura any objections to the measure can be stated at the March 14 council meeting, when the bill is expected to be considered by the full council.

Visit www.kauai.gov for more information.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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