Thanks to Scott Flood for gathering this information, sharing this article.
At this time, there is an enormous onslaught of industrial solar that is expected to overtake 200,000 to 300,000 acres in Virginia. Central and Southside are being targeted for many of the most land intensive solar power plants.
“Solar development in the state, if it continues at this pace, would represent “the biggest land use change we’ve ever seen,” Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) President Chris Miller said.
Although technological innovations make energy generation more efficient, Miller said current projections (based on 1 megawatt of power being generated from seven to 10 acres of solar) indicate that 200,000–300,000 acres could be converted to solar fields in Virginia.”
“That’s bigger than Shenandoah National Park,” Miller said. “So, for us, that’s a land use problem that we have to consider in aggregate, not just on a site-specific basis. Like everything else, it’s the sum of the acres.”
Virginia DEQ has projected land use change of between 317,000 acres and 687,000 acres. This is what DEQ presented as perspective for scale.
In Buckingham County, the BOS has voted to allow 7,500 acres (over 11 square miles) of solar facilities. As a size comparison, the entire City of Charlottesville is about 6,500 acres (about 10 square miles). Supervisor Danny Allen pointed out that the solar acreage allowance can be increased at any time. It seems this is only the beginning of the most drastic land use change ever in Buckingham County.
To date, nearly all of the land proposed to become industrial solar in the County is in timber production. This represents an extensive loss of forest, wildlife and protection to waterways. Forests are integral to environmental health.
Assessment of the Environmental Benefits of Virginia’s Forests and Forest Economy: Prepared by the Virginia Department of Forestry Dec. 6, 2022
“Virginia’s trees and forests provide critical habitat and crucial benefits such as reduced stormwater and flooding impacts, moderating temperatures, capturing air pollutants, carbon sequestration and storage, and protecting and increasing the supply of clean drinking water. Almost half of all Virginia surface water originates from state and privately owned forestlands.”
On November 14th, County Supervisors approved a nearly 1,200 acre utility-scale solar project. They are on the verge of approving twonew permits for proposed industrial solar facilities. Additional forested lands will be converted and this will happen before:
- Major regulatory changes from Virginia DEQ.
- Buckingham County Solar Policy is adopted.
- “Pen to paper” analysis of costs to County
New DEQ regulations promise to reduce the erosion and sedimentation damages that have been inflicted by the construction and operation of industrial solar across the State. Implementation of the new regs can be stipulated as a “condition” of the any solar Special Use Permit (SUP).
The Buckingham County Solar Policy is a draft and has not yet been adopted. There are several recent modifications to the draft that lessen the community and environmental impacts of industrial solar.
Solar Policy draft updates include:
- 100 feet setbacks from property line
- 500 feet setbacks from dwelling ps
- Pile driving limited to M-F 8am to 6pm
- Soil testing every 2 years
- Final soil report at Decommissioning
Additionally, the committee is still working on slopes. They are looking into cutoff slope percent for grading. Might be talking on minimum distance between facilities (3miles?) or maximum distance from high voltage lines (1 mile?).
There are more than enough opportunities for solar to be inserted into the “built” world. Parking lots, rooftops, brownfields, roadways, and other palace solar can be built without harming the environment. Forests and all that they encompass should not be erased!
The James River and its tributaries are at risk. Of particular concern is the stretch from Little George Creek in Buckingham County to the Willis River in Cumberland County.
This section of the river is rich with aquatic life, has unique habitat and has received scenic river designation. It is also home to several mussel species (including endangered and threatened mussels) and includes the Seven Islands area (a.k.a the Jewel of the James). Several municipal water intakes are just downriver.
In total, there are roughly 10,000 acres of land disturbance pending. This threatens to be severely damaging due to the risk of sedimentation from multiple utility-scale solar facilities (USS). These projects are at various stages of development. The stormwater and runoff of each would impact the same short stretch of the James.
In Albemarle County, the 138 MW Woodridge Solar LLC has been approved at the county level. The Hardware River will be the conduit for this facility’s watershed. There are populations of endangered James Spinymussel in the Hardware River. The Hardware Wildlife Management Area is traversed by the Hardware River.
1) The 149.5 MW Riverstone Solar LLC has been approved at the county level and at the state level. Permitted for over 1,800 acres of land disturbance. That is potentially an immense volume of sedimentation! Little George Creek conveys the entire watershed of this project to the James.
2) The 74.9 MW Pineside Solar LLC has been introduced to the county planning commission. The watershed of this facility is carried by both the Slate River and Little George Creek.
3) The 100 MW Blue Rock Solar has been approved at the county level. State permits are pending. The Willis River will be the conduit for this facility’s runoff.
4) The 80 MW Mountain Pine Arvonia Solar LLC & Mountain Pine Arvonia Solar II LLC have been introduced to the Planning Commission. These projects are very close to the James River.
5) Another 149.5 MW project has recently appeared on the PJM New Services Queue. At this point in the process, there are very few details. No project name or precise property location revealed. There are several continuous parcels of commercial timber land that are the likely location for this facility. It appears the majority of the site would be south of Bridgeport Road with much of the facility watershed having confluence to the James via the Slate River.
NOTE: 1, 2 & 5 are so close to each other and would nearly be adjoining.
In Cumberland County, the 150 MW Cumberland Solar LLC has been proposed. Just upriver from Cartersville, it is very near the James River.
There are two industrial solar projects pending.
1) The 38 MW White Oak Solar has been introduced to the County. Confluence via Rockfish Creek.
2) A 150 MW project near Bremo is currently being discussed with County administration.
These industrial solar facilities primarily replace forested agricultural lands. The loss of millions of trees and millions of cubic feet of soil will have far reaching impacts.
In Virginia, if a solar facility can receive PJM approval prior to December 31, 2024, DEQ regulations will not require the panels to be considered impervious. Based on the track record of the currently constructed utility scale solar facilities, the stormwater controls will be inadequate.
A recent op-ed by Scott Cameron of the Northern Virginia Soil and Conservation District, points out that 70% of solar facilities in Virginia had been cited for creating water quality issues.
The State has recognized the inadequacy of the existing DEQ regulations in two memos:
The solar industry has warned the solar developers to seek approval prior to the new DEQ regulations taking effect. Article:
These photos were presented by Virginia DEQ as examples of USS concerns. Link to DEQ info here: https://www.chesapeake.org/stac/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Rolband-VA-Landscape-Hydrology-and-Water-Quality.pdf
Thousands upon thousands of acres of forest and soil will be lost. Millions of trees will be removed, the land grubbed, and habitat erased. Aquatic and terrestrial life are squarely in harm’s way. All of these industrial projects will concentrate sediment and runoff to the same section of the James River.
We must protect the James River, these lands and all that they encompass!