FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — Solar energy is expanding in Northwest Florida. While the majority of solar panels are seen in business fields and residential rooftops, ground-mounted solar energy systems are an increasing option.

The City of Fort Walton Beach is looking to change the land development code to regulate these ground-mounted systems. At the Feb. 14 meeting, city staff presented an ordinance to the council for consideration.

“This is a trend we saw and we want to get ahead of it really,” said Growth Management Director Chris Frassetti.

Currently, there are required permits and restrictions placed on accessory structure items such as sheds and carports. The ordinance to change Chapters 1 and 5 of the code would put restrictions in place for solar energy systems as well.

“We have had just a couple start coming in and we have others asking about it,” said Growth Management Director Chris Frassetti. “They will install it in their yards on basically a large metal frame with panels set on this at angles to catch the sun.”

Frassetti said they looked at the State of Florida and nearby jurisdictions to set a good policy for ground-mounted systems and came up with the following regulations:

  • Grounded systems would require a permit.
  • The system must be 7.5 feet from property lines.
  • Must be placed in the backyard of properties.
  • Have a maximum height of 15 feet.
  • Can only take up 25% or less of a backyard.
  • Comply with FEMA and flood zone standards.
  • Panels must meet hurricane grade rating.

The Local Planning Agency unanimously approved the proposed regulations before being brought to the council.

Councilman Smith and Allegretto went against the initial motion to approve the ordinance as read for a second reading in the Feb. 28 meeting. Smith urged staff to bring back more information on whether or not ground-mounted systems would decrease property values and the height of the structures. Algretto mentioned the safety of the structures in terms of heat and the potential to require a fenced barrier around the panel for protection.

Councilman Holmes also voted against the first reading motion.

In a tie-breaker vote, Mayor Ryenearson agreed for staff to bring the item back with expanded information based on the councilman’s concerns.