This Independent Voice column appeared in the Spirit Of Jefferson on September 20, 2023
The Blake Solar Project, adjacent to St. James the Greater Catholic Church and the new Kings Crossing sub- division, is under construction. This 516-acre project fundamentally changes the rural, pastoral atmosphere of the area. Solar farms are an industrial use of property and should be required to be located in areas zoned for either light or heavy industry, such as the Bardane industrial park area. Just because someone owns a property does not mean that they can use it for an industrial type of use.
Another major concern is the environmental impact of solar farms. Formerly fertile farmland is stripped bare to install solar panels. Without proper ground cover, runoff becomes a major concern, with sedimentation of the nearby Shenandoah River, for example, becoming a possibility.
In Louisa County, Virginia, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has fined provider Dominion Power $50,700 for erosion and runoff problems on an 1,100-acre project. In central and southwest Virginia, Energix was fined $97,651 for various violations including erosion problems.
According to Roanoke.com, “At the Appomattox facility, inspectors found that ‘many areas around the site, particularly under the solar arrays, were denuded and stabilization had not been applied,’ the consent order states. Run- off had created gullies and maintenance was needed on silt fences, check dams and other erosion control devices at the Leatherwood operation in Henry County, which in 2021 became Appalachian Power’s first utility-scale solar farm.”
In Essex County, Virginia, a consent order for $9,100 in fines was proposed for the 200-acre Coronal Power solar facility, which also experienced severe erosion and runoff problems.
Also consider that it is cloudy, on average, about 55 percent of the time here in the Eastern Panhandle. Solar panels produce only about 10 percent to 30 percent of their full capacity on cloudy days. This makes West Virginia a questionable location for utility-scale solar projects. For example, in Nevada, there are, on average, 73 per- cent more sunny days than in West Virginia.
Then there is the issue of disposing of the solar panels when their lifecycle ends in 25 to 35 years. The panels may contain arsenic, cadmium, lead and selenium that should not be disposed of at local dumps.
In an Op-Ed in the Aug. 9 issue of The Spirit of Jefferson, Richard Zigler, one of the property owners of the proposed Wild Hill Solar Project argues that, “Commercial solar facilities are passive in their effects on the communities in which they are installed.” Ziegler also claims that “environmental issues are not an issue.” Based on the above observations, this statement is flat out false.
Another factor is that food production is an important necessity for the continuation of society. Eliminating more and more productive farmland or forest land is a bad policy for long-term sustenance of society. Although some farmland will be developed into subdivisions, it is on nowhere near the scale of the proposed or already under construction solar farms.
According to Rexa Kameli and Sun Shen of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at the College of William & Mary Law School, authors of the report “Developing Solar Energy in Rural Virginia: An Analysis of Legal, Environ- mental and Policy Issues” (2022),
“To avoid disturbing prime forested and agricultural lands, solar developers and localities should consider siting new solar projects on degraded lands or ‘brownfields,’ such as former industrial sites, landfills or mined areas, provided appropriate environmental controls are in place to mitigate adverse effects. Additionally, distributed solar is another option that could be explored more in Virginia to ease the pressure to develop large solar facilities in rural communities.”
The Jefferson County Commission should work to stop the construction of the proposed solar projects that have not yet begun construction, as well as any future utility-scale solar projects that are not located in industrially zoned areas. We should learn from the costly mistakes of other rural counties.