- The Fauquier County Planning Commission has rejected two proposals to build utility solar fields on farmland in the county.
- The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted down a plan to construct a solar field covering 1,700 acres.
- The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors rushed to pass an ordinance that restricts utility solar projects to parcels of a minimum of 500 acres with panels covering only 100 contiguous acres.
- The Page County Board of Supervisors voted to hold off on supporting large-scale solar developments for now.
- The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a solar farm on just under 100 acres of agriculturally zoned land.
So goes the land use quandary stewing in rural counties around Virginia, the result of a building friction between the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals and the desire of communities to preserve productive farmland and with it, their agricultural identities. Unlike a homeowner installing rooftop panels to offset electric costs, so-called “solar fields” or “utility-scale” solar projects can require many acres. They generate energy directly into the electric grid, not for end-use customers.
On a deeper level, as electric vehicles and huge data centers boost the state’s power needs, there’s a wariness that rural communities will one day be expected to provide the solar energy to meet the demand.
“We want to do our share, but not more than our share,” said Sam McLearen, Culpeper County’s planning director. “We’re open to this kind of energy, but we want to keep it within the bounds of Culpeper. We don’t want to be providing energy for the data centers in Northern Virginia.”
A solar panel array behind The Arbors at Culpeper Senior Assisted Community
The right balance
For Julie Bolthouse, the prospect of solar panels lining open fields is a knotty matter. As deputy director of land use for the Piedmont Environmental Council focusing primarily on Fauquier County, she’s all in on the shift to renewable energy. But, she said, it comes down to navigating the right balance.
“There’s a deep need to address climate change,” Bolthouse said. “That being said, though, …….