About the editor:
While I generally support new technologies for a more sustainable future for our great nation, Lunenburg County still has a lot to do before a decision should be made on the Victoria or Red Brick solar project.
While the comprehensive plan contains a small section on solar energy, before any official vote on one of the two projects, the county must work out a complete and defensible regulation specifically for solar systems – in other words, we put the horse in front of the wagon.
The current Lunenburg / Kenbridge / Victoria 2019-2024 joint master plan only includes solar energy in the executive summary and in some paragraphs in the special policy areas – none of which fully addresses the long-term needs of environmental protection, land use and viewing sheds, design rules or other requirements to ensure that the county does not pose any problems in the short or long term.
When I review the Lunenburg District Code, I cannot find any current regulations for solar systems, except as described in Section 1. 5-39. – Exceptions to height regulations for which the height regulations of this ordinance do not apply to solar systems.
Given the attraction of falling solar power costs, government incentives, and the strong interest among businesses in purchasing renewable energy, developers across Virginia are increasingly proposing utility-scale solar projects, particularly in rural areas like Lunenburg. Because land prices tend to be much more cost-effective in rural areas, and because areas near high-voltage lines provide significant cost savings for industry. While solar energy on the supply scale corresponds to the sustainability goals and reduces carbon dioxide emissions, it must bring the Lunenburg district an overall value above the label for clean energy, tax revenues and limited full-time jobs after construction. Lunenburg County landowners and taxpayers must weigh its impact on our rural community, the natural environment and the local economy.
A comprehensive regulation on solar parks would cover the following topics:
• A primary effect of utility-scale solar energy is the removal of forest and / or agricultural land from active use. Solar systems should not be installed on first-class agricultural and forestry areas (as identified by the USDA or government agencies) and ecologically sensitive areas (e.g. bank buffers, critical habitats, deciduous forests). The least productive land should be used first to minimize the loss of productive agricultural / wooded land.
• The visual effects of solar systems on a utility scale can and should be minimized through effective shielding and buffering. This requires updates to the district ordinances. Therefore, the use of berms, native evergreens / shrubs and deciduous species should be required.
• Substantial buffers can act as wildlife corridors. The placement of the panels within a project site is also important to maintain areas conducive to wildlife travel through the site.
• The demand for space and the extent of solar use is high. It is likely that pressure for additional acreage in rural counties will continue. The long-term effects of multiple permits would change our land use in large parts of our county. The county should think about limiting the potential explosion of this land use change and its long-term effects – which are often irreversible.
• Mass classification in connection with the removal of agricultural and forestry areas leads to harmful rainwater runoff and pollution if improperly handled.
• In view of the history of the Lunenburg district, applicants should be required to conduct a phase I archaeological study of the areas with planned disturbances prior to construction or classification work.
• Decommissioning plan and waste – how is waste – especially aging solar panels that need to be removed – handled from these facilities? The regulation should address this in detail.
• Other issues that should be investigated by a regulation should include a site plan, recesses, height restrictions (contrary to current § 5-39), fences, noise, glare, lighting and maintenance.
When concluding solar projects on a supply scale in the Lünenburg district, we should not be at the expense of our first-class agricultural and forestry areas. It should also not have a negative impact on our environmentally sensitive, scenic and historical resources. It should bring the Lunenburg district an overall score above the clean energy label and minimize its impact on our rural community, the natural environment and the local economy. If we can enact an ordinance that ensures these points above, solar energy can be a good thing for the Lunenburg district and allow a diverse tax base for the district to grow and prosper.