Speaker Event

Rural Opposition and Policies Related to Large Solar Developments (Webinar)

Event Date: May 4, 2022
Starting Time: 12:00 pm
Location: Closed Webinar
Event Date: May 4, 2022
Starting Time: 12:00 pm
Location: Closed Webinar

Attorney Cliona Robb is presenting a webinar Wednesday, May 4th at noon where she will serve as a panelist, alongside Jeff Hintzke of Clean Focus, to discuss opposition to solar developments in rural areas, hosted by Municipal Sustainable Energy Forum.

Presentation Resources:

Cardinal News: 4/21/2022, Is Virginia at a solar crossroads? by Megan Schnabel            

Virginia Department of Energy & Virginia Solar Initiative at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center: April 2022 Virginia Solar Survey: Results and Initial Findings 

End of 2015: no active utility-scale solar installations (above 5 MW). About 3,000 distributed solar installations

End of 2020: 51 active utility-scale solar facilities = 2,657 MW. 26,000 distributed sola installations = 248 MW

From 2020 to 2021, total electricity from solar more than doubled 

Key points:

  1. Local governments have approved roughly 80% of all utility-scale (above 5 MW) and community-solar (500 Kw to 5 MW) they’ve reviewed
  2. Many local governments still haven’t incorporated solar considerations into their ordinances and policies
  3. Solar generation (3,365 GWh) exceeded coal generation (3,130 GWh) in 2021
Statewide Legislation  & Regulation
2020 Virginia Clean Economy ActTarget of 16,100 MW of solar and onshore wind by 2050
2045 for 100% carbon-free energy for Dominion customers
2050 for 100% carbon-free energy for Appalachian Power customers
HB 774  Mandates the creation of a work group to analyze the lifecycle of the materials used in solar farms – and what can, and should, happen to those components when a facility is decommissioned.
HB 894– Virginia Cooperative Extension to create a map of prime farmland, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
– State may work with Appalachian Power and Dominion to identify relevant distribution and transmission grid information to further help localities determine the best places for solar farms
– Directs the Department of Energy to “consider the economic development of rural Virginia while minimizing the impact on prime farmland” while updating the state’s energy plan
HB 206– Requires DEQ to analyze the impacts to farm and forest lands when it reviews applications for utility-scale solar installations
– Developer of any project that would affect more than 10 acres of prime agricultural land or more than 50 acres of contiguous forested land would have to submit a mitigation plan
– Applies to projects of up to 150 megawatts that go through DEQ’s permitting process, so very large solar installations like the one proposed for Charlotte County would not be subject to this requirement
– Key compromise: DEQ will convene an advisory panel; any project with interconnection request submitted before end of 2023 will not be subject to bill’s requirements
Stormwater RegulationA new stormwater management policy could consider solar panels to be impervious surfaces for purposes of managing rainfall runoff from acres of panels. 
Local Oversight
Solar policies, regulations, or permitting processes: 61% of localities statewide have updated Comprehensive plans (guiding long-term goals): 28% address renewable energy; 13% plan to address  – 28% have no plans to address it
– Only 16.5% identify specific types of land that would be suitable for large-scale solar developments  
 Those wary of growth Those supporting growth
EnvironmentalistsPiedmont Environmental Council.  Concern about meeting goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement
– Farm and forest land play a critical role in cleaning and filtering water and keeping waterways and the Bay free of pollutants
– After decommissioning, may only be suited for pastureland because topsoil is lost to grading and the earth gets compacted
Nature Conservancy. Believes Virginia’s clean energy goals can be met without touching prime farmland, wildlife habitats, or areas of cultural or historical importance. Estimates about 6.48 million acres of land meet that criteria vs. 161,000 acres of land needed to meet VCEA solar goal. 
– Looked at elevation, distance from transmission lines, existing land cover & area
– Did not look at land price or available capacity on transmission lines
Developer assessment of using rooftops, brownfields or grayfields before using greenfields. Not easy: a site analysis showed reclaimed surface mining land would not be stable for decades and would be subject to settling. 
Land owners and  agriculture organizations– Viewshed impacts
– Traffic & construction impacts
– Loss of farmland, including driving up the cost of leasable farmland
– Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Agribusiness Council supports HB 206 
Virginia Land and Liberty CoalitionConservatives for Clean Energy. Solar farms are a smart investment in the nation’s energy independence. Those who insist on maintaining agricultural acreage are hurting farmers by preventing them from doing what they want with their own land.
– Due to reasons of health or family succession or finances, may not be interested in farming anymore.
Local governmentsMoratoriums. Southampton, Page, and Nottaway Counties enacted moratoriums on new solar farms to give their planners a change to update zoning ordinances & see how similar projects are playing out.

Amendments. In 2021, Augusta County updated its comprehensive plan to place additional limits on utility-scale solar.  In April 2022, Mecklenburg County voted to limit the size & location of new facilities.

Declining to enact solar ordinance.  Bedford County did not approve 75 MW/843 acre solar farm with $105,000 annual income to County. Opponents noted that agriculture and tourism were top priorities in comprehensive plan and solar “will kill both.”

Virginia Association of Counites. Need for new long distance transmission lines. Existing roads may not suffice for heavy-duty truck traffic associated with solar farm construction. Stormwater concerns.   
Pulaski County (it’s a green issue, not a red or blue issue)
– Business-to-business transactions between developers and farmers who want to retain their land and earn a living from it
– Won’t be losing the land—will be retaining it; could end up being a subdivision
– Large solar facility is an economic development driver: makes the county more attractive to data centers and large corporations that take their environmental responsibilities seriously 

Charlotte County Administrator
– $1,400 per MW per year= $1.1 M for each of first 5 years with 10% increases over time
– Plus additional benefits in Siting Agreements
– But for real long term benefits, would need infrastructure like sewer & roads, which solar projects don’t provide