Placing restrictions on the development of solar energy in Halifax County was a topic of discussion at Monday evening’s board of supervisors meeting.
Supervisors voted in favor of a recommendation from the solar density committee to restrict new solar projects to no closer than 2,000 feet of any town boundary. Supervisors will hold a public hearing in a joint meeting with the Halifax County Planning Commission to gain input on the proposed change to the county’s solar ordinance before taking a final vote on the amendment.
Election District 2 Supervisor Larry Roller, a member of the solar density committee, voted against the proposed amendment to the county’s solar ordinance, explaining the reasons for his opposition.
“I feel a mechanism is in place to ensure a solar facility is not sited where it inhibits future commercial or industrial growth as identified in the county’s comprehensive plan,” Roller explained. “Our county comprehensive plan identifies future commercial and industrial growth areas around towns, also several communities in the county. We as a board also require by Virginia Code to certify that a solar facility is substantially in accord with the adopted county comprehensive plan.”
If the supervisors deem a change to the county’s solar ordinance necessary, Roller said he believes it would be “more appropriate” to limit solar projects to siting within a “determined distance of proposed commercial and industrial development as identified in the county’s comprehensive plan.”
On the other hand, ED-6 Supervisor Stanley Brandon, who is also a member of the solar density committee, spoke in favor of the proposed amendment to the county’s solar ordinance.
“When we look at our county comprehensive plan, it is from time to time updated and renewed, and when we look at our towns and our town boundaries, they remain, and every day we are in hopes that we will experience some growth,” Brandon pointed out. “We actually had a proposed solar facility that did fall outside of the town limits, but it did fall within the present-day comprehensive plan growth. So, in looking at how we handle that as well as other areas around our towns, I thought it would be a good idea to consider this restriction.”
Solar farms have popped up in various parts of the county in the past couple of years. With the growth in solar development, the local organization We The People of Virginia, Inc., asked supervisors to put a halt on existing applications for approved solar projects until a review of the potential impacts of the solar development can be conducted.
A total of 16 solar projects in the county either have already been completed, are currently under construction, or are in the pre-construction phase, County Administrator Scott Simpson previously shared with the supervisors at their January meeting.
Those projects generate a total of 693.13 megawatts of energy and encompass a total of 8,403.69 acres, with 4,779.30 of those acres under panels.
“Over a 35-year period, all totaled up, there’s about $45 million in revenue that the county will see from these projects,” Simpson shared at the January meeting. Total taxable revenue from all the solar projects is $37.22 million and real estate revenues from the projects totals $8.59 million.
We The People of Virginia, Inc. shared several concerns with supervisors about continued solar development in Halifax County. Jack Dunavant, We The People chairman and charter member, remarked that We The People was originally established in 1982 “to protect our sacred county from uranium mining,” and now the organization wishes to do the same with solar development.
“We are not against solar farms; there is a definite place for them,” Dunavant told the supervisors. “We are here tonight to develop reasonable regulations to protect our county from the potential problems, just as we have done in the past 41 years.”
“Setbacks are not sufficient to protect neighbors,” Dunavant continued. “The land must not be sterilized by the uncontrolled use of herbicides like Round-Up and 2, 4-D that poison the soils and adjacent streams. These areas are fenced off from any form of life including human life for up to 60 years. Who cleans up afterwards? Who takes the fences down? Who is responsible for restoring the area to its original conditions? The answer is ‘no one.’ Are they required to reforest the land? No. With our many years of experience, we volunteered to participate in finding solutions for these problems.”
We The People representative Stacey Long provided more details about the organization members’ concerns about continued solar development in Halifax County. Among those concerns are decreasing the property values of residences in the area of the solar development, environmental dangers, health dangers to human life/wildlife and other communities’ challenges with solar energy.
“We are asking the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to put a hold on all existing applications for approved solar farm projects until the representatives of the board of supervisors and We the People of Virginia can meet, review, study and formulate necessary guidelines to protect the environment in those areas,” Long said in her address to the supervisors.
Long expressed that she has concerns about the chemicals from the solar panels leeching into the water and soil, as well as worries about potential loss of habitats for wildlife, and decreasing property values and deterioration of the county’s rural roadways from the influx of traffic due to construction of the solar panels.
“Most important of all is the health aspect. We already have a serious problem here with cancer and we all know that,” Long stated. “Why can’t we err on the side of caution and not bring in the extra burden of possible health concerns? We need a third-party independent study on all negative impacts, not only to our property, but to our environment and our medical health.”
Long also pointed out the reason for the exponential growth of solar facilities in the county is because of the tax credits associated with them.
“There is now a solar investment tax credit that is currently at 26%. That will be dropped to 10% permanently to industrial customers and 0% to homeowners at the end of this year. That is why we see the push,” Long explained. “Can the solar industry be sustainable without these credits?”
Long added she understands that localities have a “fiscal responsibility” and solar facilities generate revenue, but she implored the supervisors to consider all aspects of their decisions, rather than making decisions solely based on “paying the bills.”
Other items of business
Supervisors held a public hearing on splitting the Midway voting precinct into two separate precincts before voting in favor of making the change. No one spoke during the public hearing.
Because of the layout of the final state legislative districts, House Districts 49 and 50 split the Midway voting precinct established in Halifax County’s redistricting efforts, according to background on the matter provided in the supervisors meeting agenda packet.
Dividing the Midway precinct will not relocate the polling location; both precincts will continue to vote at the Midway Fire Department.
At Monday’s meeting, supervisors also took action on:
• Approved the courthouse project closeout, including a change order for $145,266.08 to make upgrades to the ventilation system and modifications to the Juvenile Courtroom bench. The final construction contract was $21,897,454.01,
• Approved Halifax County’s portion of an opioid settlement,
• Scheduled a public hearing for their April meeting to gain input on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year plan for Halifax County and adopt the plan.
During the citizen comment portion of Monday’s meeting, several residents shared their thoughts on Halifax County Animal Control. Some of the comments were in support of animal control, while others voiced complaints and concerns about animal control.