Bill to Address Impacts to Farm and Forest Land Due to Large Scale Solar Projects Passes House

February 22, 2022

HB 206 (Webert), if adopted, would require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to include an analysis of impacts to prime agricultural soils and forestlands when reviewing applications for utility-scale solar installations under its Permit-by-Rule (PBR) process. The bill passed the House of Delegates 67-32 and will likely be heard in Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on March 1. VACo supports HB 206.

Action Required Contact members of Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources to vote “YES” on HB 206.

Under current law adverse impacts to wildlife and historic resources require review by DEQ for such permits. If HB 206 becomes law, applicants would also need to demonstrate “reasonable actions” taken to “avoid, minimize, or otherwise mitigate such impacts, and to measure the efficacy of those actions” for “significant adverse impacts” to farm and forestlands.

The legislation specifies the types of farms and forestland to be considered is this review…

For purposes of this subdivision, “prime agricultural soils” means soils recognized as prime farmland by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and “forest land” has the same meaning as provided in § 10.1-1178, except that any parcel shall be considered to be forest lands if it was forested at least two years prior to the Department’s receipt of a permit application. A project will be deemed to have a significant adverse impact if it would disturb more than 10 acres of prime agricultural soils or 50 acres of contiguous forest lands, if it would disturb forest lands enrolled in a program for forestry preservation pursuant to subdivision 2 of § 58.1-3233, or if it meets any other threshold for a significant adverse impact as the Department may establish via regulation.

The bill would not apply to any applications received by DEQ prior to the adoption of regulations to incorporate the additional analysis of impacts to farm and forestlands, or by December 31, 2024, whichever comes first.

KEY POINTS

  • VACo supports energy policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while taking into consideration the protection and preservation of agriculture and forestry.
  • HB 206 provides reasonable and prudent measures to ensure that utility-scale solar projects do not significantly harm the farm and forestry assets of rural localities.

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

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