Supervisors move forward with intention to regulate solar

By Heather Michon

The Board of Supervisors moved forward with two resolutions that could greatly restrict the development of solar power in Fluvanna County.

Two resolutions of intention were at issue Wednesday evening (March 6): one that would remove utility-scale solar development from land zoned A-1 (agricultural), where it is currently allowed under special use permits, and one that would add supplemental regulations for solar projects of any size.

The resolutions wouldn’t unilaterally change current ordinances. Instead, they would move the process over to the Planning Commission, which would explore the issues and make recommendations to the supervisors for public hearing and debate.

There was general consensus on adding regulations that clearly define parameters for setbacks, vegetative screening, land management, and other issues in solar development.

Mike Sheridan (Columbia) said the regulations would give the county the tools “to protect what we have, to keep everything we have.”

However, Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) was strongly opposed to the motion to consider removing utility-scale solar from A-1 districts.

Not only does it send the message that “we don’t want solar in the county,” he said, “it flies in the face of personal property rights.”

He argued that it would make it much harder for landowners and farmers to generate revenue from unused agricultural land. 

It would also limit the county’s ability to control future land use, as solar projects would see more A-1 acres rezoned into I-1 (industrial) and remain industrial land even after they are decommissioned.

He called the motion “ill-conceived.”

Chair Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) saw it more as protecting the land from state overreach.

With the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 moving the state to all-renewable energy by 2050, the legislature debated several new laws that would force localities to adopt more renewable projects. 

Most of the bills died in committee and won’t come back until next year, but Fairchild saw a clear message that they were ready to coerce local governments into complying.

“If they meant it as a shot over the bow, as a bit of a threat, they might have wanted to keep that to themselves,” he said. “Because they just gave us a year to create an effort in this state, that is mostly rural, to come back and say, ‘you will not take our rights away.’”

Mike Goad (Fork Union) and Tim Hodge (Palmyra) argued that the motions only kicked the issue to the Planning Commission for review.

“I really don’t see something that is wholly unpopular gaining traction,” said Hodge. “If it is unpopular, it will come back to us with that message – it is unpopular, do not do this.”

He added it was the job of the board to fulfill the will of the people.

“Those who are against it will usually show up,” said O’Brien. “Those who are not against it assume that you’re going to do the right thing to begin with. So if we’re defining the ‘will of the people’ as the people that show up and argue against it, well, then we’re probably not capturing the full will of the people.”

The resolution of intention to strike utility-scale solar passed 4-1, with O’Brien voting no. The resolution to add regulations to solar projects passed 5-0.

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