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Smoke from burning sugar cane fields creeps into this part of the West Baton Rouge Solar Farm. The solar farm has over 100,000 individual solar panels and is off of Rosedale Road.

Solar energy farm builders will now need to submit their plans before building in West Baton Rouge Parish after the parish council approved a measure Thursday that would give them more oversight on those projects.

Parish leaders last month halted solar plant construction because of concerns touching mainly on how the project would impact the parish's aesthetics. The council on Thursday unanimously passed an ordinance that requires companies to seek permits anytime they want to build on land zoned as agricultural.

"We're basically here tonight to protect both the landowner, the developer and the resident," said council member Alan Crowe, whose district includes the area where a newly proposed solar plant would go.

The decision comes as residents and parish leaders raised concerns about San Francisco-based firm Bueche PV1 LLC's plans to build a second, larger solar farm north of Port Allen on Bueche Road.

That plant would follow Capital Region Solar, a 50-megawatt solar energy plant west of Port Allen that went online earlier this year.

As the first utility-scale solar farm in the state, it has gotten somewhat of a lukewarm reception among some residents and parish leaders, who have complained of unkempt grass and ditches. Some residents at Thursday’s meeting also touched on worries about what effects those projects may have on property values.

"We felt like we had to do something," said Council Member Carey Denstel. "This kind of blindsided us in November, and we just felt like we needed to get moving.”

Because the parish lacked any rules on where a solar farm can be built, developers were not required to submit plans when building on land zoned as agricultural.

The new ordinance also gives the council the ability to set certain rules and require studies or further information for solar projects.

Helios, the company managing Capital Region Solar, said it's planning to build fences to screen the facility and address other public responses it's received. 

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The parish council also lifted a temporary ban on solar farm construction that it had passed last month.

According to the filing submitted to the Louisiana Economic Development, the latest project is estimated to cost about $240 million, with construction starting in 2022 and finishing at the end of the following year. It’s expected to bring 430 temporary construction jobs and create one permanent position once completed.

The company also submitted plans for two similar projects in Pride and East Feliciana Parish.

Solar energy is becoming more prevalent throughout the state, a trend driven largely by a steep price reduction in solar panel material.

Entergy, for example, has increasingly looked to solar power projects to meet rising energy demands. The company seeks to add up to 300 megawatts of solar resources by 2023.

About 25% of electricity Entergy customers receive comes from carbon-free sources, including nuclear, hydroelectric and other sources.

With that trend likely to continue, officials in West Baton Rouge Parish say they had little information or guidance to when Capital Region Solar was built.

District 2 Council Member Chris "Fish" Kershaw said he would like to see the council address specific stipulations at a later date, such as buffers and other requirements for solar farms.

“We're kind of cutting our teeth,” he said. “We're trying to do the best we can. I think this is a good move forward.”


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad