The following was submitted to Page Valley News after first being presented as open public comment to the Page County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 20:
The Page County Farmers Association (PCFA) wishes to express its concerns regarding the alternative ordinance to regulate solar facilities currently under consideration by the Page County Board of Supervisors sub-committee. Our primary concerns are as follows:
• There is a need for a set of minimum standards. The ordinance should have minimum standards that are met by any applicant granted a special use permit for a utility-scale solar facility. Such standards should regulate, among other things, maximum size of the facility by energy production, where such facilities can and cannot be located, and set backs of solar equipment from adjacent properties and sensitive areas such as towns, subdivisions, roads and wetlands. Such standards provide protection for the county’s agriculture and tourism industries, cultural and environmental assets, and real estate values. Making them optional conditions of the special use permit allows them to be applied arbitrarily, if at all, at the whim of any board of supervisors. Making them requirements of the basic ordinance assures they will be applied fairly and consistently to every applicant.
• Many farmers depend upon leased land to make their operations viable. Taking large amounts of agricultural land out of production increases the cost of the remainder, making an already risky and uncertain business even more so.
• Agricultural land that has been graded and otherwise developed for a utility scale facility to be decommissioned after 30 years or more will not be viable for production, unless costly measures are taken to set aside and preserve disturbed topsoil and remediation. Top soil should be removed and stored in a manner that it will not wash away and can be replaced upon decommission of the project. Provision for the specification of such measures and bonding to assure performance and payment need to be a requirement of the ordinance.
• The ability of farmers to have small- and medium-scale solar facilities to provide for their on-site power needs without unreasonable compliance costs and requirements.
• There is limited unused capacity of the transmission lines, if smaller size limits are not placed on the utility scale facilities it would allow fewer farmers that may wish to participate in solar farming.
The PCFA favors having an ordinance that offers reasonable opportunity for solar facilities with strong protection for their interests, residents and assets of the county. The bottom line is that the ordinance should have restrictions that protect the interest of the county, not the interest of the solar developers and a few land owners that will benefit.
Page County consistently places within the top four counties in the state in total Ag production. We need an ordinance that will protect and enhance that position, not one that will threaten it.
While we (PCFA) have asked our members to do their own research and make their own determinations in regard to the solar projects, the above are some of the concerns voiced by our members. Additionally, we see no assurance of substantial net benefit to the county from utility-scale solar facilities. No long-term employment will be created. Estimated profits cannot be verified and there are still “unknowns” that cannot be answered in regard to the expected short- and long-term expenses to the county that could far outweigh any financial benefit. It seems that the only substantial benefit goes to the solar developers and a few land owners. By not having a restrictive ordinance, it would seem as though we are only benefiting a handful of people at the expense of the rest of the people in the county, and that the needs and wants of a few are outweighing the needs and wants of many.
It is of great importance to the farming community and to our organization that we instill and maintain a mutual respect and a working relationship with our local board of supervisors. We appreciate each of you considering our concerns and ask that you make your decision regarding the alternative ordinance based on our concerns and the voices from the community in which we all live.
James K. Gochenour, President ~ Page County Farmers Association
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