Months of work by the Planning Commission and professional planning consultants resulted in a well-crafted, reasonable solar ordinance. Rather than approve the recommended ordinance at its December 15, 2020 meeting, however, the Board of Supervisors formed a new subcommittee to review it again.
The new subcommittee has met, but we don’t know what happened at the meeting* and are concerned that the carefully crafted protections in the ordinance may be removed and/or weakened. (Edited to add: We were right. See our post about two other ordinances being considered.)
What you can do
We encourage everyone to continue to keep the pressure on and express support for the “good” ordinance which passed the planning commission. Here are things you can do:
- Keep writing letters. Direct your comments to your supervisor and copy all the other supervisors, the County Administrator and Dr. Morgan Phenix, Chairman, At-Large. Below are all those emails and following this list are some talking points and a sample letter.
- D. Keith Guzy, Jr., District 1 Supervisor – email@example.com
- Allen Louderback, District 2 Supervisor – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mark Stroupe, District 3 Supervisor – email@example.com
- Larry Foltz, District 4 Supervisor – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jeff Vaughan, District 5 Supervisor – email@example.com
- Dr. Morgan Phenix, Chairman, At-Large – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Amity Moler, County Administrator – email@example.com
If you’d like, you can also copy the Alliance’s Page County Coordinator Chris Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org). She will be compiling comments to submit for public record.
- Write Letters to the Editor. You can use the same talking points below and the sample letter to craft your message. Below are the emails for both local news outlets.
- Make sure your neighbors know this is going on! We’re trying to get the word out because the wrong ordinance choice could have a big impact on the future of Page County. Please help us make sure Page citizens are aware the time to speak up is now.
The Solar Ordinance, Explained
Page County is unique and there are several components of the solar ordinance that were developed specifically for the county and must remain in place for Page to successfully participate in Virginia’s renewable energy goals.
What the ordinance says
What the ordinance does
Maximum of 200 acres ‘coverage area’ inside the security fence protecting the panels and no more than 65% of a site covered by panels.
Page County is a small, rural and beautiful county. A project size maximum of 200 acres protects our two main economic drivers of agriculture and tourism. 200 acres is easier to screen from Shenandoah National Park viewsheds and the Park brings in thousands of dollars annually to Page County. No more than 65% of any solar site covered by panels means at least 35% of solar site must be used for setbacks, screening, buffer areas, etc.
Facilities shall be located outside of forested areas. Facilities shall not be located within ¼ mile of US Hwy 340 and Hwy 211 & Business Hwy 340 & Business Hwy 211 except where natural topography shields the entire facility from view.
Our forests are a valuable part of a healthy ecological system and need to be protected. Visitors to the county come in on Highways 340 and 211. We need to protect our entry corridors to support tourism, one of our two main economic drivers.
Facilities must be at least 1 mile from a town boundary, outside the primary & secondary service areas around a town as delineated in the comprehensive plan & not adjacent to residential districts or subdivisions.
Allowing industrial-size solar developments next to towns or residential area 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.
No facility shall be located within 2 miles of another facility unless the combined acreage is 200 acres or less.
This closes a potential loophole around the 200 acre project maximum that protects the county’s two main economic drivers of agriculture and tourism.
Facilities shall be located within 1 mile of electric transmission lines.
This ensures minimal need for new transmission lines in the county and makes for more efficient solar facilities.
Facilities shall minimize or avoid locating on farmland with soils categorized as Prime Farmland & Farmland of Statewide Importance. No site shall have more than 50% of soils identified as such.
By protecting the most productive soils, we protect the future of agriculture as an industry. Our prime soils are a valuable asset to the county and should not be taken up by industrial solar developments.
Facilities shall not be located within 200 feet of historic & cultural resources as defined & listed in the comprehensive plan.
The Shenandoah Valley and Page County are well-known for their history and culture, main reasons tourists come here. We need to protect our historical and cultural resources.
Native trees shall be used for screening and native grasses, including pollinator-friendly species, shall be used for groundcover.
Insects play an important role in sustaining agricultural crops, but their numbers are in decline. By planting native and pollinator-friendly species on the entire site, we are helping local birds, insects, mammals and our local farms.
Here is a sample letter that can be edited to include your concerns.
Dear Page County Supervisors and Staff,
I rely on you, our elected officials, to listen to and then represent the interests of citizens, do your homework so you are familiar with the material you are discussing, and ask the questions necessary to find the answers needed to make good decisions.
The good solar ordinance that the planning commission wrote with the guidance from consultants includes important protections for Page County which should not be changed or eliminated. Among these is a maximum industrial scale solar size of 200 acres which is a best-fit size for the County derived after months of hard work. This is a size that also can be most readily screened from one of our County’s most important natural resources and tourism attractions, the Shenandoah National Park.
The other two ordinances do not protect the county and should not be considered, either as whole documents or borrowed from in order to weaken the good ordinance.
The good ordinance represents a compromise on all accounts and was written with the best interests of the entire county in mind. I ask you to please reconsider and pass the ordinance that was supported by the planning commission and the community at large.
Page County has begun live streaming government meetings in both audio and video and staff will be at each meeting to ensure the technology works correctly. Regular meetings are live streamed on the Page County YouTube page and you can also join by Zoom. Information on how to join by Zoom is listed the board agenda packet.
* Since the subcommittee was comprised of only two supervisors, we were told that legally the county wasn’t required to allow the public to attend the meetings. In addition, with COVID restrictions in place, the public is not allowed to attend any government meetings and, although we asked, the county made the decision to not provide virtual public access and/or provide any minutes or notes from the meeting.
Banner photo by Chris Anderson.