THE TIME has come for the state of Virginia to take over the administration of solar power and solar farms from local jurisdictions.
That’s a big statement, especially coming from someone who ordinarily does not favor higher government making local decisions. But with solar, we have come to that point.
For almost three years, local governments in our area, especially Culpeper and Spotsylvania counties, have been wrestling with decisions on who gets to build solar farms and who does not.
These are no-win situations, trying to balance the good of the people as a whole with the wishes of disgruntled neighborhoods that do not want solar farms in their backyards.
Whether we like it or not, solar is coming. It is a clean, renewable energy source that puts no carbon emissions into our atmosphere or radioactive waste into the ground.
Solar panels may not make for the most attractive landscape, but neither do the thousands of electric poles that clutter our roadsides.
The first words out of the mouths of solar opponents is, “We are not against solar; this is just not the right place for it.”
The “right place for it,” of course, means the deserts of California or the badlands of Texas. Unfortunately, it would be almost impossible and financially unfeasible to transmit energy produced by California solar farms to the Fredericksburg area.
Even if it was possible, it would require those huge high-voltage transmission lines that create neighborhood controversy every time Dominion Energy or Rappahannock Electric Cooperative proposes one.
Companies like Dominion have made a commitment to produce more electricity from solar, and have stated that in numerous TV and print ads. Solar, like electric cars, is the way of the future.
Solar is also a way for struggling farmers to earn enough extra money to stay in business. A farmer puts part of his farm into solar, and the other part into crops. This helps the environment in two ways. First, electricity created by solar panels does not produce carbon gases. And second, crops such as corn and soybeans use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
The alternative is for struggling farmers to sell their land to developers who build houses whose inhabitants require schools, roads, police protection and other taxpayer-funded government facilities and services. Solar farms require none of the above.
What many solar opponents don’t understand is that houses can in most cases be built by right, without government rezoning. It all depends on the density.
Should some future technology make solar farms obsolete, they can be dismantled and the land put back into agriculture. Houses are usually there forever.
We went through a similar controversy with biosolids (treated human waste) about 20 years ago. Again, local governments were trying to determine which farmers would be permitted to put this free fertilizer on their fields and which wouldn’t.
At that time, just as now with solar, boards of supervisors’ meeting rooms were packed with angry citizens who did not want biosolods in their neighborhoods. And, just as now, they came up with all kinds of off-the-wall arguments about the dangers of human waste fertilizer.
Finally, the General Assembly said “enough is enough!” and took decisions concerning biosolid application away from county governments and turned it over to the state. Now, the Department of Environmental Quality regulates biosolid application.
The same needs to be done with solar farms. Then a supervisor who understands that we need solar energy would not feel that he has to vote against a proposed solar farm just to please his friends and constituents.
Let some impartial state agency handle solar because now, as with biosolids, local governments are treating some farmers unfairly. Get supervisors out of this controversy.
State oversight worked for biosolids, and it can work for solar.
Take note, members of the General Assembly.