Saturday, May 18, 2024

Amherst County Introduces New Zoning Rules to Regulate Utility-Scale Solar Farms while Preserving Natural Beauty


In an effort to regulate the development and deployment of utility-scale solar farms, Amherst County has introduced revised zoning rules following the rejection of a significant solar farm proposal in the Piney River area. The new ordinance places a cap on utility-scale solar operations, limiting them to 50 acres under panel. This decision comes after the County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote, reflecting a measured approach to green energy development while considering local environmental and aesthetic concerns.

The Amherst County Board of Supervisors’ revision of the solar farm ordinance was influenced by public feedback and previous project evaluations. Previously, the county had approved two utility-scale solar projects, each with a capacity of 10 megawatts or less. However, the proposal for a 50-megawatt project by Energix Renewables, situated just off Virginia 151 near the Nelson County border, faced significant opposition. Concerns mainly revolved around potential impacts on scenic views and environmental considerations, as well as the belief that the power generated would largely benefit regions outside of Amherst County.

The updated ordinance includes several key measures to manage the construction and operation of solar farms effectively. Among these is the requirement for retaining qualified third-party reviewers for building, erosion, sediment inspections, and review processes. Additionally, a vegetative buffer of 40 feet must be established along with a mandatory decommissioning plan for discarded panels to be updated every five years. To further safeguard community interests, the new rules also prevent any single solar farm from being situated within a mile of another existing utility-scale solar facility, thereby preserving the county’s natural beauty and viewshed.

Offering insight into the county’s strategic planning, Tyler Creasy, the director of community development, highlighted adjustments to the county’s comprehensive plan for growth and development. This plan encourages the location of solar generation facilities east of U.S. 29 Business, where the terrain is more conducive to solar infrastructure and closer to necessary substations. The stipulations aim to guide future solar farm development in a manner that minimizes negative impacts on neighboring properties and residents.

Despite these regulations, some voices within the industry, like Jeannie Johnson, a resident of North Carolina affiliated with a solar developer, argue that larger projects could offer greater economic benefits and contribute more significantly to the grid. She advocated for reconsideration of the 50-acre cap and the proximity restriction between solar sites, emphasizing the potential for responsible development and economic incentives.

The ordinance adjustments come as a response not just to previous project rejections but as a forward-looking measure to balance sustainable energy development with community values and environmental preservation. While acknowledging the challenges and the state’s interest in expanding solar energy capacity, Amherst County officials express a firm commitment to setting standards that protect their local environment and community welfare. As the solar industry evolves, these regulations offer a controlled approach to accommodate growth while maintaining Amherst County’s scenic and environmental integrity.

Alexandra Bennett
Alexandra Bennett
Alexandra Bennett is a seasoned business journalist with over a decade of experience covering the global economy, finance, and corporate strategies. With a Bachelor's degree in Economics and a Master's in Business Journalism from Columbia University, Alexandra has built a reputation for her insightful analysis and ability to break down complex economic trends into understandable narratives. Prior to joining our team, she worked for major financial publications in New York and London. Alexandra specializes in mergers and acquisitions, market trends, and economic

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