The Piedmont Environmental Council supports solar energy, especially small rooftop and ground-mount systems designed to meet local demand. This distributed form of generation is a cost-effective way to increase energy security, address environmental challenges and provide power at peak times while reducing the need for larger centralized power facilities and associated infrastructure.

Over the past few years, the declining cost of solar panels and rising demand for green energy sources has spurred interest in the development of utility-scale solar facilities throughout Virginia. These facilities are often located in rural areas, consume numerous acres and are incorrectly referred to as solar farms. They have many of the same environmental benefits as rooftop solar.

However, they are not farms, and it is proving difficult at best to protect our natural, cultural and historic resources from poorly sited facilities. The larger the facility, the higher level of difficulty avoiding or mitigating impacts to communities and important resources.

The Cricket Solar proposal in Culpeper is one such project that ignores sensitive resources. It is located along the scenic Rapidan River, within acres of wetlands/floodplain and prime agricultural soils, within the view of numerous historic resources, and would require grading and clearing of existing forests. There are many potential sites in Virginia that would not require these trade-offs.

Virginia has endless acres of rooftop space devoid of solar panels in areas of moderate to high energy demand. We also have contaminated and/or underutilized industrial sites that could be used for this purpose.

We should be looking to these already-developed areas as the “low-hanging fruit” of future solar sites. Larger facilities in rural areas will play a role in the state’s energy mix, but they should not come at the cost of our most productive agricultural lands. Nor should they impact important scenic and historic resources that we rely upon for tourism.

It is for these reasons that we do not support the Cricket solar application.

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Dan Holmes is Director of State Policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council in Warrenton.