Everyone’s Property Rights Must Be Respected

Note:  A shorter version of this editorial was slated to be published in a column in the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper, but the Editor decided not to publish it after talking with Stolipher.

Recently, there has been an impasse at the Jefferson County Commission.  Commissioners Krouse and Jackson have refused to attend the regularly scheduled Jefferson County Commission meetings held after the September 7th meeting.

What is behind this impasse?

The short answer is; conflicts of interest and corruption.

This controversy continues as the new Blake solar farm project is being built outside Charles Town, and at least one other solar farm in Jefferson County, the Wild Hill solar project near Kabletown has received an extension of its conditional use permit.

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Stolipher, who owns farmland, says that he did not receive any remuneration for his efforts to increase the prevalence of solar farms throughout West Virginia, as evidenced by his lobbying during the 2022 Legislative Session for legislation (not passed) that would allow solar farms as a matter of right in all West Virginia counties. Solar farms would still have to get required permits and meet all regulations under the proposed legislation he advocated, Stolipher points out. He also said that he will not benefit personally through owning properties that might be leased or sold to solar farm developers. 

Stolipher, a farmer, a commercial real estate broker and an auctioneer, is from a family of longtime farmers in Jefferson County.  The Stolipher family owns over 600 acres in Jefferson County, according to public records. (  Search for “Stolipher”). 

Stolipher is a big proponent of property rights, stating that an owner can do as they see fit with their property. A member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission since 2012, and the county commission’s current voting member on the planning commission, he recently said he does not believe in land zoning restrictions. Stolipher is also a voting member of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee and the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA).

Although all Commissioners sit on commissions, they are not all voting members of those commissions.  The Planning Commission has approved the four solar projects that were either being built (Blake) or in the works when the solar text amendment was rescinded.  Although Stolipher generally recuses himself when votes are taken, the fact that he won’t reveal the exact nature of his conflicts of interest is a serious ethical problem.  In my conversation with Stolipher, he said he did not know if his brothers would financially benefit from the development of solar farms in Jefferson County. In yet another assault on transparency, the Jefferson County Planning Commission, on October 10th, voted to eliminate public notice and comments for waiver applications.  This is completely unacceptable, and a step away from, not toward, transparency.

Stolipher indicated to me that it is more profitable for farmers to have their land used for solar farms than to grow corn on it. He said that farmers make about $200-per-acre profit growing corn. In comparison, landowners of the proposed Wild Hill solar farm project would make $475 per acre per year over a 39-year lease.  This figure is taken by dividing the revenue stated in the article in the Nov. 1 Spirit and dividing it by the number of years and the number of acres.

When I pointed out about environmental concerns, including runoff into and sedimentation of the Shenandoah River, apparently mostly due to the Blake solar project under construction, he took objection to that assessment. Later in our conversation, he indicated that runoff should not occur for any project, not just from solar farms.

Another large point of contention is that, very likely, Stolipher is moving to have a replacement candidate for Clarrie Ath, who resigned as Commissioner put on the council to vote in favor of his agenda.  According to Commissioner Krouse, the Republican Executive Committee did not follow established procedures to conduct an on the record and transparent vote for the slate of three candidates that they are presenting.  As such, that slate is not valid.  A transparent selection process is needed.  Furthermore, one of the propose candidates, Keith Lowry, would have an inherent conflict of interest, as the organization that he is executive director of, Jefferson Ministries, has received up to $80,000 of yearly funding from Jefferson County.

Addressing part of the reason for an ongoing dispute among county commissioners, Stolipher said that the reason he did not put Commissioner Jennifer Krouse’s recent solar farm discussion request on the commission’s meeting agenda was because it was submitted late.  However, Krouse explained that the item was initially approved but later remove when Stolipher saw exactly what the agenda item was.

When talking about property rights the property rights of all of those affected by solar farm projects have to be considered. Decisions also have to be made transparently, and public discussion and approval is a must.   As a real estate broker, Stolipher should reveal if he has received or will receive any commissions from the sale of any of the properties sold to solar farm developers.

This transparency was lacking during the development stage of the Rockwool insulation plant, and we should not repeat that mistake regarding solar farms. Citizen input should be valued, not dismissed

What about the property rights of homeowners in the new King’s Crossing subdivision directly adjacent to the Blake solar project? What about the property rights of those who own riverside lots who are effected by runoff and sedimentation of the Shenandoah River? A complaint regarding this runoff was submitted to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection by the Jefferson County foundation on Sept. 26. 

We should also be very wary of the proposed takeover of siting decisions for solar farms by the state government. A similar situation is now playing out in Michigan, where the governor and legislature are moving toward passing legislation that would strip the ability of local communities to decide if they want such projects by placing them on the ballot for local referendums. 

In fact, West Virginia needs legislation so local communities can have more say, not less, in solar or other industrial development. It is a good idea to allow local communities to request ballot measures to approve or disapprove solar or wind farm projects. That ability for local communities to have more development control, should be added to state law during the upcoming legislative session.

A better strategy regarding finding appropriate sites for solar farms is to locate them on degraded lands or ‘brownfields’. 

According to Kameli and Shen of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center in “Developing Solar Energy in Rural Virginia: An Analysis of Legal, Environmental, 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 Millville quarry site, where a solar farm is envisioned is an example of an area where it makes sense to install a solar farm.

What long term economic benefit does a solar farm provide, except to those leasing or selling the land that the solar farm is situated on, which is only a handful of people?  Land owners’ interests must be balanced against the interests of the whole community.  Some of the interests of the whole community are; concerns about the environmental damage that solar farms routinely cause, the decline in property values of nearby properties, and the effect on tourism.  Instead of a bucolic rural area, widespread solar farms would turn Jefferson County into an industrial area, and tourism is a major economic engine in Jefferson County.

It is also important to maintain farmland for food production.  This is especially true in an unstable world, where food shortages have become a reality.

Environment Ethical Business Politics West Virginia Politics

#143-Conflicts of Interest Corrupt Our Government

Local government officials, including Jefferson County West Virginia County Commission Chair Steve Stolipher, have conflicts of interest regarding the promotion of Solar Farms. These conflicts of interest are harmful to local citizens.
More broadly, self enrichment by government officials is a serious problem.
Transparency must be demanded, and government officials must realize that they are the servants of their constituents.

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Environment Politics

Kudos to Krouse and Jackson for repealing the solar farm ordinance

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, “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.