Environment West Virginia Politics WV Elections 2024

#164-Interview with Daniel Lutz-Candidate for Supervisor-Eastern Panhandle Conservation District

Listen to the podcast


Discussing Danny’s Candidacy and Background
Richard and Danny had an introductory discussion about Danny’s candidacy for a third term as a nonpartisan Conservation District Supervisor in Jefferson County and for the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District. They discussed the importance of informing the public about Danny’s background and values, despite his unopposed status in the race. Danny was set to answer questions regarding his stance and purposes.

West Virginia Conservation Agency’s Role in Preserving Resources
Danny stressed the importance of the West Virginia Conservation Agency in preserving the state’s natural resources, particularly its water and soil. He discussed the agency’s role in mitigating soil erosion. Unfortunately, the agencies offer to help in the evaluation and review of the impact of solar compounds on farmland has not been heeded by Jefferson County officials. He also highlighted the issue of sediment pollution in the Shenandoah River, caused especially by Virginia and affecting the Chesapeake Bay due to high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Danny noted that only West Virginia and the District of Columbia have met the 2025 macro contaminant reduction guidelines, while Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania have not. He suggested that solar farm installations, which are obligated to prevent soil runoff, are a significant contributor to this issue and that it would be the responsibility of county agencies and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to address any erosion.

Environmental Issues and Local Delegates
Danny and Richard discussed environmental issues concerning the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection. Two complaints filed last year regarding soil conservation issues had not been mitigated, and there seemed to be no action against the perpetrators. They also discussed the Blake Solar Farm’s exemption from the local storm water ordinance, which should not be the case, as Danny pointed out. The situation is complicated by a proposal in the House of Delegates to allow the state to override all local zoning ordinances, which Richard and Danny both criticized. They identified two local delegates, Wayne Clark and Paul Espino, as the sponsors of this problematic bill.

Farmland Conservation Challenges in Jefferson County
Richard and Danny discussed the challenges of conserving farmland in Jefferson County. Danny explained that farming is almost extinct in the region, with the number of operating dairies dropping from 212 in 1978 to just one currently. The primary reason for this is the high value of land for commercial and residential development, which is often more profitable than agriculture. Danny further highlighted the high cost of equipment and the low margin involved in farming, making it difficult for young people to enter the industry.

Modern Farming Challenges and Opportunities
Richard and Danny discussed the challenges and opportunities in modern farming. Danny shared his experience of passing his farmland to a younger relative, highlighting the importance of mentorship and cooperation. They also discussed the struggles of new farmers entering the field due to high costs and a lack of support. Richard raised questions about the role of the Conservation District supervisor in county planning processes, especially regarding issues like runoff.

Solar Farm Proposal and Site Suitability
Richard and Danny discussed the suitability of the Blake Solar Farm site, given its hilly terrain and potential need for extensive grading, which has lead to erosion and has contributed to making the land unsuitable for farming in the future. Danny explained that the solar farm would likely only be useful for about 20 years before needing to be replaced or abandoned, and the land would not be suitable for farming afterwards due to the depletion of nutrients and the need for significant reconstruction.

County Supervisor Roles and Farm Bill
Richard and Danny discussed the roles of the County Conservation District Supervisor in the planning process, with Danny expressing frustration about being ignored by the Board of Planning. They also talked about the work of youth groups like FFA and 4H, which Danny confirmed are still active and relevant despite some outdated links on their website. Lastly, they discussed the pending farm bill and its potential impact on funding and policies, with Danny emphasizing the importance of clean water and reducing pollution.

Carbon Credit Program Proposal in WV
Danny proposed a carbon credit program in West Virginia where each resident would receive a certain number of credits each year which they could buy from others to discharge anything into the soil, air, or water. The program would fund an exchange and conservation, with the remaining income going to the sellers. Richard acknowledged the need to care for the soil and water, suggesting a potential revision of Jefferson County’s zoning plan.

Danny’s Personal Experience and Conservation Discussion
Danny shared his personal experience of living through the “silent spring” described by Rachel Carson, highlighting the eventual return of birds to the area after a period of extinction. He also mentioned his recent re-reading of “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” a book he was required to read in high school.

Environment Ethical Business Solar Development Uncategorized

Numerous Department of the Environment Violations at Blake Solar Project Site

Multiple complaints have been filed with the West Virginia Department of the Environment, resulting in multiple inspections and the issuing of multiple notices of violations.
See the inspection reports, including pictures below.
View the complaints by selecting each file below:

Violations include, among others, no corrective action for construction areas and no provision for temporary seeding and mulching. In other words, soil will continue to run off during construction, unless this is corrected. “The majority of the sediment trapping structures on the site had been removed and converted to permanent storm water management ponds. Other trapping structures that were not converted had been removed. However, the site remained disturbed…”

Still, to this date, the violations have not been remediated to the satisfaction of the Virginia Department of the Environment. Yet, no stop work orders have been issued, and no fines have been levied. These regulations need teeth, in the form of stop work orders and hefty fines.

This project is a bellwether for what we can expect if other solar projects are built in Jefferson County. The solar text amendment needs to be repealed. It is not in accordance with our current Comprehensive Plan.

A thoughtful solar plan could allow solar development on brownfield areas, such as the county dump or the Millville quarry site, not on prime farmland. Perhaps much smaller solar projects could be built on existing substation land plots owned by power companies. But in no way is this carte blanch approach of allowing solar farms anywhere in urban zoned areas and as a permitted use anywhere else good for Jefferson County or its citizens.

It is only “good” for a few large landowners, and some real estate developers who will reap a large profit windfall, at everyone else’s’ expense.

Environment Politics West Virginia Politics

#147-Stop the Prosecution of Commissioners Krouse and Jackson

Jefferson County WV Commissioners Krouse and Jackson are being prosecuted by County Prosecutor Matt Harvey because of their work stoppage in protest of the railroading of industrial solar farms in Jefferson County WV. Since Krouse and Jackson have already returned to work, Harvey should drop the petition to remove the Commissioners, unless he wants to join the likes of Fani Willis, Alvin Bragg and Jack Smith, prosecutors in President Trump’s cases.

Listen to the Podcast

Environment Politics West Virginia Politics

#146-Solar Farms Cause Esthetic & Environmental Damage to Jefferson County WV

Industrial scale solar farms are not in alignment with Jefferson County WV’s Comprehensive Plan. Furthermore, they are causing environmental damage and ruining fertile farmland. The idea that the under construction Blake solar project and proposed solar farms are providing vital income for struggling farmers is complete BS.

Listen to the Podcast


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 removed 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.

Listen to the Podcast

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.