The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors passed a handful of measures recently directing staff to begin developing policy options for governing potential solar array projects and creating an interim strategy for solar farm inquiries.
On April 20, the board voted 7-2 with Supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposing the motion.
Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling), who brought the initiative forward, said after a number of requests came before the county for large scale solar projects, officials realized there was no regulation to address the installation of solar arrays.
“I understand that the topic of solar arrays is being worked on in the zoning ordinance rewrite process and I do not intend to derail that work with this [Board Member Initiative],” Saines said.
However due to the lack policy on such requests, he said the board should consider the growing interest in solar energy from vendors and residents in Loudoun and across the region.
As part of the direction to staff, the board is expecting a report that includes input from the Environmental Commission and Rural Economic Development Council regarding revisions to the county ordinances that may be necessary to address solar farms in the county.
Additionally, the board directed county staff to develop an interim policy and process for addressing solar farm inquiries from property owners and/or businesses until such time that any relevant ordinances can be amended.
“How do we help people monetize their land without putting homes there? Well, this is a way to do that,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said in support of the motion.
Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) made an alternative motion to exclude the rural policy area out of the consideration, but it failed with a 2-7 vote. Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) supported the motion.
Kershner said people go to western Loudoun for such reasons as the scenic views and wine, and he believes the board’s consideration to include solar farms in western Loudoun will harm tourism making for a larger problem in the future.
“What we're going to end up seeing if we even begin to put the nose of the camel under the tent in western Loudoun with these with potential solar farms, is we're going to see our prime ag soils and our open fields filled with solar panels,” Kershner said.
Buffington said he sees the worst for his constituents with solar farms. He said companies are targeting farmers with lots of land.
“It could very well do extreme harm to the future of western Loudoun County,” Buffington said. “No one is going to want to go to a brewery or a winery … and look out and see nothing but glare from solar farms.”
Saines directed staff and the groups involved to also consider location considerations, priorities, environmental impacts and economic benefits before returning to the board.
No timetable was provided when staff will return with an update.