New moratorium placed on future solar farm applications after Cape Solar mix up

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Dominion Energy 125 acre solar farm Remington va
Dominion Energy's 125-acre solar farm in Remington, Va.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, NOV. 23 — At last Wednesday’s meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors adopted a new moratorium on all future solar farm applications in the county after repealing an identical measure earlier this month.

District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback made the motion last week to adopt a new moratorium, effectively blocking consideration of any new applications for solar farms until the county adopts a solar ordinance. The motion passed, 4-1, with chairman Morgan Phenix dissenting. District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan left the Nov. 17 meeting before its conclusion and did not cast a vote.

“This should not be necessary,” Phenix said. “We should have an ordinance in place.”

After approving the smaller Dogwood Solar project at Dam Acres near Stanley and denying the larger Cape Solar project north of Luray more than two years ago, the board placed a moratorium on reviewing “all commercial and industrial renewable energy applications.” County planners and a hired consultant worked for nearly two years on drafting a proposed solar ordinance that, among other things, limited solar farm projects to 200 acres. The proposed ordinance was voted down by the board, 4-2, late last year.

In December, Urban Grid submitted a second special use permit application for the Cape Solar project. Although the application was never officially reviewed by county staff, it was received, along with a filing fee — thus directly contradicting the county’s original moratorium and effectively rendering it moot.

Although the Cape Solar application was filed on Dec. 11, 2020, the applicant waived the 180-day time limit for the planning commission to make a recommendation on the application in a letter to the county dated March 4, 2021. Then on Sept. 27, the applicant requested that the application be placed on the planning commission’s Oct. 12 agenda. The county is using that date — Oct. 12, 2021 — as the starting point for the 180 days, which means a recommendation must be forwarded to the board of supervisors by April 10, 2022. The supervisors then have one year from that point to hold their own public hearing and take a vote.

At the end of scheduled business at its recent Nov. 3 meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a motion by District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan to lift the original moratorium effective Sept. 21, 2021.

“We accepted a document that we did under improper guidance, or whatever…,” District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy stated prior to abstaining from two votes on the issue. “…at this point we’re doing the right thing to fix it and doing it right, but it’s not what we told the citizens.”

The new moratorium hopes to prevent the same mistake, and supervisors say they plan to move forward with another lengthy process to develop a solar ordinance for Page County.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Guzy said. “We’re not going to try to resurrect a three-year-old document…we need to be looking at the latest…like what they’re considering in Rockingham County…We will go through the process, we are doing the right steps, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

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