In 2019, Augusta County set out to update its planning documents in order to better address solar energy projects. There were two separate issues before the board – adding specific solar and renewable energy language to the county’s comprehensive plan and updating the county’s solar energy systems ordinance.
Solar in the Comprehensive Plan
In order create the comp plan language, the board of supervisors appointed a 14-member citizen committee, of which the Alliance’s Nancy Sorrells was a member. That committee wrapped up its work in late 2019 and county planners presented the results to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for feedback in early 2020. The final two-page comprehensive plan update document received approval from the governing boards in August 2020.
The comprehensive plan, which is the county’s vision for how Augusta County will look and develop over the next 20 years, encourages carefully sited solar projects of all types as a means of achieving the community’s renewable energy goals. It also includes 11 policies that help guide the development of solar in a way that meshes well with the county’s rural landscape and economy and quality of life.
A Refined Solar Systems Ordinance
At the same time as the comprehensive plan work, the county’s ordinance committee, made up county planners and members from the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, worked for many months to refine further Augusta’s solar systems ordinance. That new ordinance received final approval at the beginning of 2021.
Solar energy systems are allowed by right everywhere in Augusta County if they are used for purposes of supplying power directly into an existing residence, farm or business. The new ordinance applies only to solar arrays where the generated power is sent back into the power grid. The ordinance further divides the county’s regulation by the size of the project; defining small scale solar systems as being less than 50 acres, and large systems as those greater than 50 acres.
Both large and small scale systems require special use permits, but small scale permits will be issued by the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that issues all other special use permits (SUPs) in the county, while large scale SUPs must come from the Augusta County Board of Supervisors. Small scale systems can be permitted in General Agriculture, General Business, and General Industrial zoning districts. Large scale systems are not permitted in General Industrial zoning districts. Buffering, bonding, site plan submittal, setbacks and decommissioning language was refined for both portions of the ordinance.
We commend Augusta County for the time and effort put into making sure solar projects in the county are well-sited and successful and that valuable natural resources and the quality of life of our communities are always included in local planning efforts.