With more than 20 public comments* urging the Page County Board of Supervisors to pass the solar ordinance on Tuesday, December 15, the Board voted 4-2 to table the ordinance for additional review, despite months of hard work by the Page County Planning Commission and staff and a $15,000 contract with the Berkley Group for professional guidance.
A subcommittee, comprised of two supervisors along with the county administrator and zoning administrator, will meet to review the ordinance and consider any changes.
One item likely to be reviewed is a maximum size of utility-scale solar projects that would be considered for approval in the county, a critical discussion point since the start. The draft ordinance specifies a 200-acre maximum, a good compromise between citizens concerned about impacts to tourism and agriculture in the county and those who believe Page County should entertain utility scale solar to address global climate change. Additionally, the 200-acre cap makes projects easier to screen from the viewsheds of visitors to surrounding public lands.
How big is 200-acres?
For a county the size of Page, a 200-acre development could be considered enormous—a project this size would be larger than any other land use change the county has seen.
For scale, here are some locations in Page County and their approximate sizes:
Walmart including the building and parking lot
Luray High School including the building and parking lot
East Luray Shopping Center, its building and parking lot, plus the Wrangler plant
Luray Caverns parking lot, down to Hwy 211 plus the mostly forested Cave Hill
Supervisors also questioned project setback requirements from federal roadways, specifically Highways 211 and 340.
The 200-acre cap and setback requirements would require the original 560 acre Cape Solar project to be scaled down. The Cape Solar project at its full size raised a lot of community concern and was ultimately voted down by Page County Supervisors in 2019.
It is uncertain what other elements of the proposed solar ordinance will be on the table for discussion, but we hope the subcommittee keeps these things in mind as they consider changing such a carefully crafted document:
Tourism works for Page County. According to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, in 2018, visitors spent $73,351,374 in Page County. Tourism is a thriving industry that should be not only protected but enhanced by numerous ecotourism and agritourism opportunities.
Agriculture is a key economic driver in Page County. In 2017, the USDA reports the market value of Page County agriculture products sold was $150,125,000. Careful consideration should be given to the protection of our soil and ag vitality.
Lastly, we hope the subcommittee will respect the wishes of the citizens and the tremendous amount of work that the Page County Planning Commission and staff put into its ordnance proposal.
Participating in the renewable energy sector can and should be achieved with balanced impacts. Installation of small and medium scale solar projects like placing solar panels on rooftops or parking lots can be used to power local energy needs and help meet renewable energy goals.
*The audio only begins working after the public comments at 53 minutes and 18 seconds on the video recording of the meeting. After multiple promises that the equipment would finally be working for this important public hearing and that IT staff would be attending this meeting to ensure its proper functioning, it was not functioning properly.