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 met last week, 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.) Use the talking points and sample letter below to ask the supervisors to stay the course and adopt the solar ordinance with the current protections in place.
Email your comments to the County Administrator and Dr. Morgan Phenix, Chairman, At-Large AND submit them in this Public Comment Form so they will be read at the meeting and recorded in public record. Submit comments by 3:00 pm on January 19.
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.
The Solar Ordinance, Explained
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.
It is imperative that the Page Supervisors allow these important protections to remain in the ordinance. We’ve drafted a sample letter that can be edited to include your concerns. Email your comments to the County Administrator and Dr. Morgan Phenix, Chairman, At-Large AND submit them in this Public Comment Form so they will be read at the meeting and recorded in public record. Submit comments by 3:00 pm on January 19.
Dear <insert your Supervisor’s name here>,
Utility scale solar is such an important issue facing Page County, and we need a good ordinance in place to regulate it. The recommended solar ordinance, that has been in the works for months, is the right ordinance for Page County and it should not be significantly altered.
Page’s topography, with mountains to the east and west providing viewsheds into our beautiful valley is something we don’t see in our surrounding localities. These viewsheds represent a significant financial value to the county as they contribute to our robust tourism economy, that in turn, keeps my taxes relatively low. The setback and screening requirements and protections for our historical and cultural resources in the ordinance will ensure projects are situated so that they do not diminish our tourism economy. And the limits on projects in areas of prime soil and the requirements to use native, pollinator friendly plants for screening supports our important agriculture economy.
And the 200-acre size limit on projects just makes sense. It is a size that:
– Represents our fair share in participating in Virginia’s renewable energy goals when you take into consideration the county’s size
– Ensures we protect our valuable agricultural soils
– Can be screened from the Shenandoah National Park
– Was determined after significant county investment: $15,000 for consultants, months of discussion with members of the Planning Commission (approved by a 9-1 vote) and significant public involvement.
Please vote to adopt the solar ordinance with minimal changes.
Thanks for your consideration,
* Since the subcommittee is comprised of only two supervisors, we’re told that legally the county isn’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. (Please see our ongoing efforts to ensure public access to Page County meetings.)
Banner photo by Chris Anderson.