Officials seek cap on solar

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Solar continues to be at the forefront of the county as officials seek to place a land cap on future projects.

The idea originated due to the county’s need for an updated Comprehensive Plan. A new component of the Comprehensive Plan is an expanded section related to solar.

As part of developing the Comprehensive Plan, the Planning Commission is tasked with providing a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

Several Planning Commission members including chairman Andy Carwile, have solar options in the works.

Earlier this month, County Administrator Dan Witt proposed a 4% countywide density limit as a starting point.

According to Witt, currently, approved solar covers 2.56% of the gross land area in Charlotte County. If land that is not eligible for solar is removed from the equation, i.e., Towns and their buffer, Village Center Districts, State Forests and Parks, conservation easements, schools, etc., then that percentage jumps to 3.02%.

“I’ve had conversations with each member of the Board of Supervisors individually, and the overwhelming consensus is that the Planning Commission needs to revisit the density issue for solar and provide a recommendation to them,” Witt said.

Witt told commission members that based on the County’s total land area of 304,336 acres and 4% density, 12,174 acres could be developed as solar. With 7,791 acres already approved, this would leave a balance of 4,383 acres.

Witt said he proposed dividing this across three levels of solar development to include:

• 3% total density for projects 100 MW and above. Currently, 7,695 are approved, leaving a balance of 1,435 acres. (This would allow for 1-2 more projects of this size.)

• .75% total density for projects 5-99 MW. Currently, 95.5 acres are approved and built, leaving a balance of 2,187. (This would allow for 3-5, possibly more, projects of this size.)

• 25 % for 1-5 MWs. Currently, 31 acres are approved and built, leaving a balance of 760 acres. (This would allow for 15 or more of this size.)

To date the Supervisors have approved six solar projects with one, Randolph Solar set to be one of the nation’s largest sites.

It was just a year ago that supervisors voted to place a moratorium on future approvals of conditional use permit applications for solar facilities until January 2024, or until revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan or zoning ordinance, or both, were implemented.

That moratorium lasted only briefly as in March Supervisors removed the moratorium after a Roanoke attorney, Carrol Ching, told supervisors that she believed the moratorium was invalid and contrary to Virginia law, calling the moratorium an “unreasonable restriction on the use of land” and its enactment “arbitrary and capricious.”