One of the biggest topics of discussion in planning circles in Augusta County these days is the introduction of large-scale solar projects upon the landscape. Nancy Sorrells, the Alliance’s Augusta County Coordinator, has encouraged careful siting for several years now as the county continues to tweak its comprehensive plan and ordinance language in regard to solar.
Augusta County’s new utility scale solar ordinance places a strong emphasis on water quality by encouraging native habitat buffering and requiring groundwater monitoring for the life of the project. The county’s ordinance also requires that developers commit to a decommissioning plan that protects the land and the water when the project is disassembled at the end of its useful life, typically several decades from installation.
Carefully sited utility scale solar development that protects the land and water during construction, operation, and after decommissioning can be a win-win for everyone. Together working with Alliance board member Bobby Whitescarver, Nancy has developed a two-page planning tool that can help both planners and solar developers protect and possibly even enhance the soil and water. Suggestions include looking closely at erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans, cultivating pollinator plants under and around the arrays, minimizing grading, and properly segregating topsoil so it can be returned after construction.
Pictured above is a successful pollinator friendly flowering meadow in its second year under solar panels at an elementary school in the Northern Neck of Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation)