Utility-scale solar power plants

Madison County has decided to require industrial zoning for large-scale solar power plants.

A Culpeper citizens group is urging Madison County officials to rein in utility-scale solar plants by limiting them to industrially zoned land.

On Monday afternoon, Citizens for Responsible Solar wrote each member of Madison’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission to encourage them to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to that end.

The two county boards are set to hold public hearings on the proposal during a joint meeting at 7 p.m. today, Aug. 7, at 414 N. Main St. in the town of Madison.

“Citizens for Responsible Solar seeks alternative solutions to solar energy projects that harm agricultural land, and wholeheartedly supports such a push for industrial-zoned land use, as we recognize that solar energy production can be helpful, when properly zoned and efficiently managed,” the group wrote the officials.

The all-volunteer group encouraged Madison County as it grapples with the issue, and expressed hope that its Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission vote in favor of the change to the zoning ordinance.

“Such a decision will set a precedent for other surrounding county officials, and continue to help to raise awareness of the necessity for responsible solar,” wrote Susan Ralston, the group’s president.

Utility-scale solar plants have recently been proposed in Orange and Spotsylvania counties and other locations throughout Virginia.

Madison’s proposed amendment, developed over a number of months, would restrict them to its M-1 limited industrial zoning district, which applies only to a small number of areas in the county, the Eagle reported.

Madison would require a developer to submit a feasibility study to ensure the electrical grid and power company could handle the power generated, as well as a cost-benefit analysis detailing the facility’s impact on tax revenues, local construction dollars, permanent jobs, and costs in roads and other infrastructure.

A viewshed analysis also would be required, to analyze the project from the perspectives of neighboring landowners and roads, the Eagle said.

Under the amendment, the power generated could only be for commercial use and must be less than 50 percent of the annual total power usage of all county users.

The applicant would have to bear all costs for increased time and work that county employees devote to the project. The company would have to submit a plan to decommission its plant that meets requirements in the ordinance amendment.

The proposed amendment also sets conditions for the location of such facilities, setbacks, safety issues, access, and landscaping and appearance requirements.

The Culpeper group backs that approach, it said.

“Citizens for Responsible Solar seeks alternative solutions to solar energy projects that harm agricultural land, and wholeheartedly supports such a push for industrial-zoned land use, as we recognize that solar energy production can be helpful, when properly zoned and efficiently managed,” Ralston wrote the Madison boards.

Culpeper County faces a similar problem, she wrote.

A German company, BayWa r.e. Solar Projects LLC, proposes building an 1,800-acre solar complex on farm and timber land along Algonquin Trail in southeastern Culpeper County, an area that borders the Rapidan River and includes a Civil War battlefield.

The citizens group says the utility-scale power plant, better known by the name of its Riverside, Calif., proponent. Cricket Solar LLC, threatens farm and property values and the integrity of historic sites.

To reconfigure the tracts included in its proposal and respond to community concerns, Cricket Solar has asked the Culpeper Planning Commission to delay its consideration of the plan until Sept. 11.

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