On Feb. 20, the Fauquier County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend new standards and definitions in considering applications for utility scale solar facilities.
The board of supervisors initiated the zoning ordinance text amendment in July 2019. The resolution now goes to the board of supervisors for consideration. A public hearing on the matter is tentatively scheduled for the board's May meeting.
The amendment would define standards for new utility solar projects, including a cap of 1,000 acres for a single project; limit the coverage of solar panels to 80% of the project area; define minimum setbacks from adjacent properties, and mandate native vegetation cover on the project site.
The proposal would not eliminate the need for solar projects to obtain a special exception permit for special use.
Fauquier County has one existing utility-scale solar project, in Remington. The Remington project was approved in 2015 by a combination of rezoning the property to “industrial general” and granting a category 20 special exemption. The project is located on 277 acres and has a capacity of 20 megawatts.
The staff report submitted to the planning commission said that “there has been an increased interest in the county by solar developers due to the presence of high capacity transmission lines and the abundance of agricultural lands.”
Amy Rogers, Fauquier County’s chief of zoning, elaborated that three solar utility companies claim to be actively pursuing projects in Fauquier County, and at least two companies have inquired about the proposed ordinance. She said the transmission lines cited in the staff report run through the Cedar Run and Lee districts.
Miles Freidman, the county’s director of economic development, said that having a clear set of guidelines for utility scale solar projects could be helpful in attracting investment. “Sometimes predictability is an even bigger factor than cost,” he said.
Lee District Supervisor Chris Butler said he is reviewing the proposal. “My largest concerns are large-scale facilities taking up prime ag land and seeing them from main roads,” he said. “Even with screening, I don't think they'd be completely blocked from view.”
Rick Gerhardt, Cedar Run District supervisor, also said that he is reviewing the proposal with county staff but did not have further comment.
Piedmont Environmental Council representative Julie Bolthouse said that the PEC is “glad that Fauquier County is working to adopt a utility-scale solar ordinance, given the amount of interest being expressed by industry. PEC is very supportive of solar energy. However, we also recognize that utility-scale solar facilities take up hundreds, if not thousands of acres, and can have significant impacts on natural and cultural resources.”