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As solar energy farms grow across South Carolina and The T&D Region, a new law encourages the owners to care for the environment at their facilities.

The "South Carolina Solar Habitat Act" stems from residents’ concerns about changes to the landscape, according to Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.

"It is an incentive program to provide as much natural habitat in these areas as possible. Instead of seeing nothing but solar panels, barbed wire fence and gravel, let us have enough native grasses, flowers to the extent possible,” he said. Ott sponsored the bill with Rep. Gary Clary R-Pickens.

The bill was signed by Gov. Henry McMaster and became law June 1.

It encourages the owners of ground-mounted commercial solar energy generation sites to provide native perennial vegetation and foraging habitats beneficial to gamebirds, songbirds and pollinators. The law also seeks to reduce storm water runoff and erosion at the sites.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources, working in conjunction with other groups, is to create a native vegetation habitat and pollinator management plan to guide solar farm owners and serve as a benchmark for their compliance with the law.

A solar farm owner may claim the site increases the habitat value of various wildlife only if the site adheres to the guidance set by the SCDNR management plan.

The solar company's vegetation and management plan would need to be made available to the public and provided to the SCDNR for review.

If the owner of a solar site meets the guidelines, a “certificate of compliance” would be issued to the solar company.

Ott said the program is not mandatory, but is an incentive that shows the company is trying to be “a good community neighbor.”

The incentive, while not a monetary one, would give the company a stamp of approval, Ott said.

"Anytime we can use incentives rather than requirements, I think is a good thing," Ott said. "I would love in the future to include more incentives to make it more attractive for folks to do it."

The law's passage comes as The T&D Region has seen a number of companies announce plans to locate solar farms in the area.

Plans have been announced for seven solar farms in Orangeburg County. Six farms have been announced in Calhoun County and one has been announced in Bamberg County over the last three years.

The seven Orangeburg County solar farms have promised to invest a total of $475.5 million and provide 460 megawatts of power.

The six solar farms in Calhoun County have promised a total investment of at least $344 million and at least 298 megawatts of power.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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