Utility-scale solar power plants

In his May 2019 letter, “Cricket Solar project ignores sensitive resources,” Piedmont Environmental Council state policy director Dan Holmes discussed the importance of properly siting utility-scale solar facilities in rural areas.

With the recent withdrawal of Cricket Solar’s conditional-use permit application in Culpeper, the county has the ability to effectively create two pieces of policy to assist with future solar applications: (1) the creation of a utility-scale solar ordinance; and (2) an update to the Area of Historic Interest (AOHI) maps in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The county should utilize this utility-scale solar intermission to effectively and properly prepare for the future. Community members and organizations have the ability to weigh in on this topic by submitting letters to the county Planning Department or speaking at citizen forums during Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings.

The creation of a utility-scale solar ordinance would provide business certainty to future developers and public certainty to taxpayers. The county’s current Utility-Scale Solar Facility Development Policy should serve as a starting point for new ordinance provisions, and could be supplemented by language from county ordinances in our region (e.g., Madison County).

During the Aug. 13, 2019, Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee meeting, there was a discussion of “requiring utility-solar scale to be in industrial zoning districts,” in addition to “limiting of the size of the projects.” A well-rounded utility-scale solar zoning ordinance would address where these facilities can be sited and a project’s maximum size.

PEC recommends updating the AOHI maps to include sites that are either listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, in addition to other historic properties identified in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Cricket Solar’s application has been revised multiple times, resulting in redundant reviews by county staff, officials, and community members.

One of the main concerns with the Cricket Solar application is that it directly impacts the Morton’s Ford and Raccoon Ford battlefields, yet these important historic sites are not documented in the Raccoon Ford AOHI (Map 6.1-15). Documentation of these resources could have prevented the Cricket Solar team from siting their project within this historically and culturally important area.

Residents should utilize the utility-scale solar intermission to encourage the county to create a zoning policy, based on the creation of an ordinance and an update to the Comprehensive Plan that would help guide future solar applications.

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Christopher Hawk is a Piedmont Environmental Council land-use representative.

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