VACo supports maintaining authority of Counties to address impacts of large-scale solar

February 4, 2020

This year the legislature is considering several bills that would limit and restrict local land use authority to address impacts due to the placement and operation of utility-scale solar projects. VACo opposes these efforts that include the following legislative proposals:

HB 657 (Heretick) and SB 893 (Marsden) exempt a solar facility that is 150 megawatts (MW) or less in capacity from the requirement that it be reviewed for substantial accord with a locality’s comprehensive plan. A 150-megawatt (MW) project has a footprint of more than two square miles with potential significant impacts to forest, farm and water resources. A substantial accord review is typically a first step in the land use application process for such projects and provides both applicants and localities with guidance on whether the use and its location are appropriate. If the answer is “no” then the applicant and locality can forego the cost and time of a special use or rezoning process. If “yes” then the applicant can choose to apply for any necessary legislative and administrative approvals.

ACTION REQUIRED – Contact your House Members today to oppose HB 657.

Despite VACo testimony in opposition, HB 657 passed House Labor and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee #3 by unanimous vote and is scheduled to be heard in full committee on the afternoon of February 4. However, VACo successfully testified on SB 893 in the Senate Local Government Committee where it was defeated by unanimous vote. With this positive result, Counties should now focus on defeating the House version.

KEY POINTS

  • Many Counties are concerned about the loss of valuable farm and forest land, critical to local economies. Solar facilities 150 MW in generating capacity can occupy anywhere from several hundred acres to more than two square miles and are in effect largescale power plants with oversized footprints.
  • Comprehensive plan review of utility-scale solar projects is necessary to determine if the use and location are consistent with land use goals and objectives. The state should not usurp local authority to determine how such facilities fit within local landscapes.

HB 656 (Heretick) and SB 875 (Marsden) restrict the authority of Counties to regulate the use of solar panels and solar storage through provisions in local zoning ordinances. Specifically, while the bills seemingly provide an option for localities to include certain industry standards when regulating the “… use of solar panels and battery technologies”, there is a complicated enactment clause that usurps local authority by mandating these standards apply when regulating the use of such technologies, regardless of whether such standards are in incorporated in local ordinances.

It is VACo’s understanding that the purpose of the enactment clause is to prohibit a locality from determining what types of solar panels and solar batteries they will, or will not allow, through implementation of a zoning ordinance, including the approval of special use permits. HB 656 passed House Labor and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee #3 by a vote of 9 to 1 and is scheduled to be heard in full committee on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 4. SB 875, at the urging of VACo, was amended in the Senate Local Government Committee to remove the requirement included in the enactment clause.

ACTION REQUIRED Contact your House Members today to oppose HB 656.

KEY POINT

  • Differences in solar panels and solar storage technologies, regardless of whether they meet certain industry standards, should be subject to local zoning authority regarding their use and location.

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

- Related Blog Posts -

Recycling and solar equipment tax exemption bill amended to preserve local flexibility

March 3, 2020

View Blog Post

VACo County Pulse Podcast | 2019 General Assembly Edition | Part 3

February 12, 2019

View Blog Post

Alcohol Beverage Control reform bills advance

January 24, 2019

View Blog Post