By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 29 — Over the past four years, the Page County Board of Supervisors and the Page County Planning Commission have discussed the potential for solar farms or the creation of a solar ordinance to guide such projects at nearly 120 meetings. Citizens have made nearly 600 public comments on the topic, and at least a dozen or more votes have taken place related to solar farm applications, moratoriums on solar farm applications (or construction), a proposed solar ordinance, hiring a consultant firm to draft a solar ordinance and advertising multiple public hearings on most of the above.
However, on Tuesday night, four years of deliberation, debate, discussion, rewrites, corrections and legal review all culminated into a 17-page document that covers the gambit of issues related to energy-producing solar facilities, from rooftop panels on buildings to large-scale industrial operations spanning hundreds of acres. The ordinance aims to protect the interest of landowners and citizens by establishing requirements for construction, operation and decommissioning of solar facilities in Page County.
“It’s been a long, hard road for the county and citizens…congratulations to everyone who participated in the process,” Rod Graves of Luray Caverns told supervisors and the crowd gathered at the county government center on Tuesday night. “I think we’ve learned a lesson. I’ve seen times when things happened before ordinances were in place…This time I think we’re looking at what’s good for the county first and embracing our historic and natural resources so we can protect them…I hope these lessons have been learned after four years because it could save the county a lot of money.”
A total of 19 speakers approached the podium and addressed the supervisors and commissioners during Tuesday’s joint public hearing on the county’s second attempt at adding a solar ordinance to the county code. All 19 speakers seemed to address the decision-makers with one, unified voice — thank you for your efforts up to this point; now please adopt the solar ordinance drafted and recommended by the Page County Planning Commission “so everyone can move forward.”
The proposed ordinance received overwhelming support from citizens, several of whom noted that the document represented “true compromise.” Examples were given among former proponents of “no solar” who are now tolerant of certain levels and sizes of industrial operations, as long as they meet requirements contained in the new legislation. In turn, some “pro solar” advocates are now more cautious and agree with the need to limit, regulate and restrict industrial operations.
After about 25 minutes of comments during the public hearing and another half-hour of wading through minor corrections to the final document, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the solar ordinance to the board of supervisors. District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy then eagerly made the motion to adopt the ordinance (seconded by District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe). The motion was unanimously approved, and the board received a rare ovation from the crowd.
The new solar ordinance — the county’s first — will become Chapter 134 of the Page County Code.
With a solar ordinance now in place, a previous moratorium on considering new applications for industrial solar facilities is now lifted. That means supervisors will soon resume consideration of a second proposal for the 559-acre Cape Solar project along Route 340 just north of Luray. The planning commission voted unanimously in March to recommend denial of the project.
After initially submitting an application in 2018 and having it denied by the board in 2019, Urban Grid submitted a second, similar application seeking a special use permit for Cape Solar LLC in December of 2020. Moratoriums and efforts to draft a solar ordinance delayed further action until the planning commission voted a second time for denial three months ago.
Supervisors are now set to hear another presentation on the Cape Solar facility — projected to generate up to 100 megawatts of power — at an upcoming meeting (yet to be determined). At that time, the board will set yet another public hearing on the special use permit application before taking a vote.
To review the 17-page solar ordinance,
visit the Agenda Center on the Page County website (June 28 agenda),
or… CLICK HERE.