More solar facilities will have the chance to come to Halifax County after Halifax County Board of Supervisors adopted a solar zoning ordinance increasing the permitted density of solar projects from 2.5% to 5% of the land within a five-mile radius.

This decision followed a public hearing in which one person spoke in favor of increasing the density, former supervisor J.T. Davis.

“All this is is an opportunity to look at additional projects,” said Davis, before noting that supervisors could also approve or deny future projects.

He said of the nine projects that have approached the board, six have been approved and two were denied. The former supervisor said each should be decided on their own merit.

“I am very much in favor of the density increase,” Davis added.

The former supervisor also mentioned the pending closure of the Clover Power Plant, which could be closing by 2025 according to Virginia Electric and Power Company’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan submitted to the State Corporation Commission. He said with that closure is $1.8 million in tax revenue that will need to be replaced.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know of anything that is going to do that at this point other than solar,” said Davis, who also said he has been impressed so far with the solar facility located south of Stage Coach Road (Route 40) in Nathalie.

“I urge each of you to look forward and provide this opportunity with a yes vote,” said Davis.

And a majority of the supervisors did, but not before ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco voiced his reservations.

Prior to his comments, planning and zoning administrator Detrick Easley explained to the board that the planning commission had previously met and recommended approving the change to the ordinance.

He also said currently with the 2.5% it allows for 1,250 acres of county property to be solar facilities, and with the increase to 5%, he said that would allow for 2,500 acres of solar facilities within a five-mile radius.

The planning and zoning administrator also noted that there is language in the ordinance that allows for supervisors to come back and increase the 5% if they deem it necessary.

The solar zoning ordinance also allows the planning and zoning administrator discretion and flexibility when approving the use and location of certain plantings in the landscaping and screening plan; and eliminates the requirement that an applicant submit a report on potential impacts on pollinators and pollinator habits.

The amendment also clarifies that the rear yard setback for solar installations in the A-1 zoning district will be 25 feet, rather than 35 feet; and allows the zoning administrator discretion and flexibility when approving the use and location of certain plantings in the final pollinator habitats plan.

County Administrator Scott Simpson said these amendments are a “culmination of the last couple of years” as county staff and supervisors understand more fully the nature of solar projects.

He also said it “cleans up language” and makes Easley’s duties “mean more” as far as review.

The county administrator also noted that with the Clover Power Plant being in Francisco’s district, it is attracting the most solar facilities.

He said some areas in the county are already nearing 2% while other areas have no solar facilities.

“We’re trying to get ahead of that curb,” said Simpson, who also noted that they’ve been in preliminary talks with some developers about future projects.

The county administrator also reminded supervisors that they have plenty of protections as far as setbacks and other buffers to decrease visibility.

But Francisco voiced concerns saying, “It goes back to what we need to live. We feed food, water and shelter, and solar facilities don’t provide any of that.”

As long as a solar facility is on a piece of land, he said nothing would grow on that land.

“I would rather wait and see more solar facilities installed,” Francisco added.

However ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon reminded supervisors of the almost $2 million in tax revenue they’re going to lose if and when the Clover Power Plant closes. He estimated that would result in an 8-cent increase to real estate taxes, if they did not find a replacement revenue source.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunity,” said Brandon.

He also said he had concerns about potential projects coming to the town of South Boston and suggested they set a perimeter around the town.

“We’re hopeful of growth in our main township,” said Brandon, who also said they don’t even need small-scale projects to be established and hinder growth.

Yet, he said, “I think solar energy is an opportunity… some players within the tax base. We need to be diligent and press forward. This window of opportunity isn’t going to last five, seven years.

“If we’re interested, we need to capture the opportunity when the iron is hot,” the ED-6 supervisor added.

ED-4 supervisor Ronnie Duffey questioned if it had to be increased to 5% or if they could consider smaller increments.

But ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne said, “We may as well set the max and then use board discretion.”

He said it would be a “waste of time” if they did a smaller increment then returned later to increase it again.

The ED-8 supervisor also said he agreed with Stanley about setting a perimeter around South Boston saying it’s an industrial hub.

“We need to look at the future. Right now we have to look at the revenue and the number of people in our county. We don’t have any revenue,” Claiborne added.

ED-5 supervisor Dean Throckmorton also said he thinks of widows who may own a farm and be in need of ways to earn additional money and suggested solar farms could be an avenue for them.

“If you can’t use (land), it ain’t no good to you,” said Throckmorton.

ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short also said before he had a lot of complaints from people wanting to participate in smaller solar projects, but were unable to. He said this would open up those opportunities.

Francisco also noted that he is fine with the previously approved solar facilities, but he hates to see his area “growing and growing” with solar facilities.

Claiborne then made a motion to approve the amendments to the zoning ordinance, and Throckmorton seconded the motion. The motion passed 6-1 with Francisco voting no due to the density change and vice chairman and ED-7 supervisor Garland Ricketts abstaining.

Supervisors also voted 7-0 to approve a revenue sharing ordinance that would allow the county to consider a revenue share to be assessed on solar facilities larger than 5 megawatts. This fee up to $1,400 per megawatt annually is in exchange for a complete exemption of machinery and tools taxation.

The county administrator also said previously approved solar projects could opt into this revenue sharing.

Brandon made the motion to adopt the revenue sharing ordinance, which was seconded by Francisco. Ricketts abstained from the vote.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com