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LETTER — Questions remain about solar project

To The Editor:

As a member of Charlotte County’s Planning Commission, the late Rev. Coan Agee would see the “big picture,” think through long-term implications and dig deep into details. Fairness was a high priority. How might Mr. Agee respond to the challenges and opportunities associated with solar projects?

Pretty much everybody supports solar energy and welcomes the income these projects can bring to our county. The question of, “Will we have large scale solar in Charlotte County?” has been decided. It’s here.

Going forward the questions are, “Where does solar go? Where does it not go? And under what conditions will it be permitted?”

Our county government is hungry for money, solar developers are hungry for money and so are the landowner applicants. But in our shared eagerness for money, are we willing to do harm? To whom? To what? In what way?

Rev. Agee would have asked these questions, not just quietly to his own conscience but out loud to his colleagues on the Planning Commission and to the supervisors.

To my knowledge, no one opposes the Courthouse Solar project. The conditional use permit issued by the local government can require ample buffers to protect streams and wetlands and sufficient setbacks and screening to protect adjoining property owners.

Yet neither topic received sufficient attention (or really any attention) during the Planning Commission’s brief, superficial review.

No Planning Commission members seemed aware Virginia’s new mapping system provides important information about topography, streams, wetlands, vegetation to guide local government land use decisions. Why not ask staff from Virginia’s natural resource agencies to interpret these map layers and their implications for decisions by the Planning Commission?

What do staff members at the natural resource agencies recommend for the width of buffers to protect streams and wetlands? Is their recommendation consistent with what the applicant proposes? Mr. Agee would have found out. Did anyone on the Planning Commission ask?

We can all recite the benefits of solar. But thousands of solar panels surrounded by a high, chain-link fence is not a pleasant view. For utility scale solar, setbacks for adjoining property owners should be wider than what is standard. Vegetative screening should be so dense and tall it obscures the view of an industrial landscape.

Mr. Agee would have walked boundary lines with adjoining property owners. He would have made sure the Planning Commission understood what was needed to protect them.

Charlotte County faces no shortage of solar applicants.  We welcome the income from utility scale solar. The pros and cons of each proposed site should be carefully evaluated. For Courthouse Solar, this has not happened. Not yet.

As Rev. Agee might say, “The devil is in the details.” Let’s hope supervisors will take a careful look and ensure valid concerns regarding stream and wetland protections and sufficient setbacks and screening for adjoining property owners are addressed.

Under a conditional use permit, the local government – not a state or federal agency – can establish the width of these buffers and setbacks.   

Pamela Kent Pettus

Keysville