Photovoltaic panels

Photovoltaic panels are gaining in popularity, and Fredericksburg may give them a boost.

Going green has gotten a little more affordable in Fredericksburg.

City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to give people who have certified solar energy equipment installed on their residential or commercial property in the city a property tax exemption and credit for five years. A second and final vote will be taken at City Council’s May 9 meeting.

“It positions the city well to represent itself as a green-friendly environment,” Richard Finkelstein, a University of Mary Washington dean and leader in the region’s Climate, Environment Action Readiness plan, told council members. “All kinds of studies show that cities and counties, and communities in general, which position themselves in this way do well at attracting new businesses.”

He said that CLEAR has seen “tremendous interest” in solar energy, especially among city residents. More than 100 have attended CLEAR meetings, and a couple dozen are moving forward with acquiring solar energy equipment. Thirteen building permits have been issued for the installation of solar energy equipment in the city since the beginning of 2015.

The idea for the tax exemption and credit originated with the city’s Clean and Green Commission, which has worked with city staff on it since August, Commission Chairman Robert Courtenage told City Council.

He said that it fits with the city’s commitment to advancing renewable energy and support of the CLEAR Plan and will hopefully encourage residents to invest in solar. It also offers “tremendous opportunities” for the city’s workforce since solar energy is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country.

The property tax exemption and credit would equal the total assessed value of the property times the tax rate minus the value of the solar energy equipment times the tax rate. City Attorney Kathleen Dooley said that the savings could be as high as $100.

Courtenage added that the commission, Greater Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity and GRID Alternatives, a Washington-based nonprofit that helps make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities, are working together to provide solar panels to houses that Habitat has built or is building. The Department of Energy has provided a grant for the project.

City Council also voted unanimously to increase planning and land development fees at Tuesday’s meeting, but was divided when it came to voting on lowering the $35 fee for the cost of conducting the background investigation for concealed carry handgun permits. It is one part of the current $50 fee for the permit.

Councilman Brad Ellis had asked to make the background investigation fee equal to the city’s cost, which is $25, but Councilman Billy Withers said that he wasn’t comfortable lowering that fee when the council had just raised other fees.

Several council members said that they didn’t want to dissect every single fee, but Councilman Matt Kelly said that the city owes it to residents to provide services at the lowest possible cost. Withers countered that the $25 for the background check only covered a city policeman’s pay, not retirement or benefits.

The measure failed on a 5–2 vote. Ellis and Kelly were the only members to vote in favor of it.

In other business, City Council voted unanimously to:

  • Increase fees on the first of two readings before changes are enacted for fireworks sales, displays and re-inspections. This is the first time they’ve been increased since 2007, and brings them more in line with what Spotsylvania County. The fee for fireworks sales, for example, will go from $50 to $250, which is what Spotsylvania County charges. Stafford County charges four times as much.
  • Amend its Unified Development Ordinance to permit Dominion Virginia Power to rebuild a high-voltage transmission line in the city. It would be part of a line that will extend approximately 34 miles from the Four Rivers substation in Hanover County through Caroline and Spotsylvania counties to the Fredericksburg substation.

Preliminary work is expected to begin early in 2018, with construction beginning in March and ending by Memorial Day. Dominion will be required to hold a public information meeting during the six-month period prior to construction.

  • Adopt a $25 license fee for small-volume vendors who sell goods, wares, and merchandise at organized events such as Art in the Park and the Farmers Market. Currently such merchants can either obtain a $200 annual license, which does not limit when or where they do business in the city, or they pay a fee to the organizer of an event who gets an umbrella license.
The idea for the tax exemption and credit originated with the city’s Clean and Green Commission.

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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