The Piedmont Environmental Council supports solar energy. For decades now, we have been a committed advocate for rooftop and ground mount systems. This distributed form of generation is a cost-effective way to increase energy security, address environmental challenges like climate change, and provide power at peak times while reducing the need for larger centralized power facilities and associated infrastructure. In addition, we have spoken in support of carefully sited utility-scale solar proposals, like the Dominion facility located in Remington, VA.
Over the past few years, the declining cost of solar panels, coupled with rising demand for green energy sources has spurred interest in the development of utility-scale solar facilities throughout Virginia. These facilities are often located in rural areas, consume numerous acres (many are well over 1000 acres) and are incorrectly referred to as solar farms. They have many of the same environmental benefits as rooftop solar. However, they more resemble light industrial sites and it is proving difficult at best to protect our natural, cultural, and historic resources from poorly sited facilities.
The larger the facility, the higher level of difficulty avoiding or mitigating impacts to communities and important natural, cultural and historic resources.
Utility-scale solar facilities require a vast amount of acreage for energy production — as much as 7 to 10 acres per megawatt (MW) of rated capacity. Based on size, location, visibility, impacts to agricultural and natural resources, and the potential for additional infrastructure, a locality needs the ability to determine the appropriateness of sites to address those impacts. Utility-scale facilities will play an important role in the Commonwealth’s energy mix. But they should not come at the cost of our most productive agricultural and forested areas. Nor should they impact important scenic and historic resources that we rely upon for tourism.
Images from Spotsylvania County in Virginia:
Virginia has endless acres of rooftop space devoid of solar panels in areas of moderate to high energy demand. We also have contaminated and/or underutilized industrial sites that could be used for this purpose. We should be looking to these already-developed areas as the “low hanging fruit” of future solar sites. Larger facilities in rural areas will play a role in the state’s energy mix, but they should not come at the cost of our most productive agricultural lands and existing carbon sinks (forests and soils); nor should they adversely impact important scenic and historic resources that we rely upon for tourism.
- Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Impacts of Utility-Scale Solar (Virginia Conservation Network briefing paper by PEC’s Dan Holmes & SELC’s Will Cleveland)
- Optimal Solar Siting for Maryland: A Pilot for Baltimore County and City (Chesapeake Conservancy report)
- Alliance for the Shenandoah’s Utility Scale Solar web resources
- Southern Environmental Law Center Solar Initiative Solar Policy Brief
- NC Clean Energy Technology Center
- The County Pulse Podcast – Virginia Association of Counties Podcast – Utility-Scale Solar Energy