The Page County Planning Commission, with consultants paid for by tax dollars, spent almost a year tailoring a solar ordinance for Page County. In November 2021 an ordinance was presented that protected Page’s unique agricultural land, waterways, historical and natural resources, required adequate screening and included a project size limit.
Despite overwhelming support from the planning commission and from the public, the board of supervisors did not accept this ordinance, and instead considered several other versions that were not nearly as protective of Page County’s natural resources.
Finally, on June 28, 2022 at a joint hearing between the Page County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, 19 citizens expressed their support for a newly crafted version of the solar ordinance that did a good job of protecting the natural resources, viewsheds, historical and cultural resources and agricultural and tourism industries in the county, and, with minor changes, it passed unanimously!
We appreciate the considerable effort on the part of the planning commission and staff in crafting the final version (we’ll post it when we get a copy). We also appreciate the votes of the board members who heard the citizens and voted accordingly.
This is an example of good governance; it would not have happened without the citizens of Page County who consistently attended meetings, spoke up at public comment periods, wrote letters to local media and helped guide officials in making this decision.
Here is what we think should be in the ordinance approved by the Page County Board of Supervisors and why each component is important for Page County:
An upper limit on development, either by project or for total development in the county.
Page County is a small, rural and beautiful county. An upper limit on development would protect the two main economic drivers of agriculture and tourism.
An upper limit for the percentage of the site covered by panels.
An upper limit for coverage by panels means the rest of the site must be used for setbacks, screening, buffer areas, etc., which will allow for screening from Shenandoah National Park viewsheds that bring in thousands of dollars annually to Page County.
Facilities should be outside of forested areas.
Page County forests are a valuable part of a healthy ecological system and need to be protected.
Projects should not be located near US Hwy 340 and Hwy 211 and Business Hwy 340 and Business Hwy 211 except where natural topography shields the entire facility from view.
Visitors to the county come in on Highways 340 and 211. Entry corridors need to be protected to support tourism, one of Page’s two main economic drivers.
Projects should be a set distance from a town boundary, outside the primary and secondary service areas around a town as delineated in the comprehensive plan and not adjacent to residential districts or subdivisions.
Allowing industrial-size solar developments next to towns or residential areas is not supported by the comprehensive plan. The service areas are set aside for future expansion of the towns and large utility-scale solar would block that future development.
Projects should be spaced a set minimum distance from one another.
This will prevent neighboring projects on large swaths of land and will protect the county’s two main economic drivers of agriculture and tourism.
Projects should be close to electric transmission lines.
This ensures minimal need for new transmission lines in the county and makes for more efficient solar facilities.
Projects should minimize or avoid locating on farmland with soils categorized as Prime Farmland and Farmland of Statewide Importance. There should be a per-project cap on the percentage of development allowed on prime soils.
By protecting the most productive soils, the future of agriculture as an industry is protected. Prime soils are a valuable asset to the county and should not be taken up by industrial solar developments.
Projects should not be located near historic and cultural resources as defined and listed in the comprehensive plan.
The Shenandoah Valley and Page County are well-known for their history and culture, main reasons tourists come here. Historical and cultural resources must be protected.
Native trees should be used for screening and native grasses/wildflowers, including pollinator-friendly species, should be used for groundcover.
Insects play an important role in sustaining agricultural crops, but their numbers are in decline. Planting native and pollinator-friendly species on the entire site will help local birds, insects, mammals and our local farms.