Madison County will now limit utility-scale solar facilities to industrially zoned land, the Blue Ridge Independent website reported Thursday.
The Board of Supervisors amended the county’s zoning ordinance on Wednesday, after a joint meeting with the Planning Commission, to narrow the range of places Madison would let large-scale solar power plants be built.
That change in land-use law could keep many solar companies from developing in Madison, the Independent reported.
Commissioner Faye Utz, who chaired the Planning Commission panel that drafted the amendment, said few localities—if any—in Virginia have such a rigorous process for permitting industrial-size solar generating facilities.
Utz’s committee worked 18 months on the measure, which the supervisors approved by a 5-0 vote. The Planning Commission recommended the amendment by a 7-1 vote, the Independent said.
Utz said the committee studied many zoning ordinances from localities around the commonwealth and talked with their officials, including ones from Culpeper County, to create Madison’s amendment.
“Many of the things we have in the amendment, we picked up on from talking to other counties,” Utz said. “They are things that, looking back, they wished they had in their ordinance.”
Commission Chair Carlton “Carty” Yowell read a letter from Citizens for Responsible Solar, a Culpeper advocacy group, that supported Madison’s effort to limit big solar facilities to industrially-zoned land.
During Wednesday night’s public hearing, Culpeper County Planning Commissioner Laura Rogers testified and praised her Madison counterparts for “a job well done.”
“I wish we had a [zoning amendment] like this one,” Rogers said.
“We don’t have an ordinance,” Rogers told the Independent in an interview. “We have a policy. And it’s not working.”
She said the latest company seeking permission in Culpeper to build a utility-scale solar plant keeps changing the design and acreage, the news website said.
“We thought it was going to be 1,300 acres and then they dropped acreage but then added more,” Rogers said. “Last time they showed up, it was up to 1,800 acres.”
Rogers, who lives in Culpepeper’s Stevensburg District, said the first solar project proposed in Culpeper was 200 acres in size. That project was rejected by the Board of Supervisors.
“Then we got the second application and it was much larger, at around 1,500 acres,” Rogers said. “Our policy was designed for smaller applications. We weren’t ready for a large-scale plan.”
Rogers said Culpeper’s policy on solar farms doesn’t have any legal “meat,” the Independent reported.
“All of our applications are agriculturally-zoned land,” she said. “And that’s causing upheavals in the farming community.”
Culpeper resident Paul Bates, who is running for the Culpeper Board of Supervisors’ Catalpa District seat, also commended the Madison commissioners and said he hopes the county will heed Madison’s example.