A study on where solar panels do and don’t belong in Loudoun raised concerns for the county’s two western supervisors that they could damage rural Loudoun.
Loudoun landowners have received offers from solar energy operators to lease their land for solar panels, for hefty sums over decades-long agreements. Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) said it became evident that the county has no clear policy on solar arrays, and on April 20 proposed a study to come up with interim guidance while the county works on a comprehensive overhaul of its zoning regulations.
Supervisors Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) sought to exclude the county’s Rural Policy Area from that study.
“I have great, grave concerns because I think this will ultimately end or have a severe impact not only on the visibility of what we know as western Loudoun potentially, but on the rural economy and everything we’ve worked so hard for so many years to accomplish,” Kershner said.
“It could very well do extreme harm to the future of western Loudoun County,” Buffington said. “No one is going to want to go to a brewery or a winery, like Dirt Farm Brewery and look out and see nothing but glare from solar farms.”
But the majority of supervisors said the work could protect western Loudoun.
“I would think that if you have concerns about solar showing up in some of these places in western Loudoun, you would actually want this to pass, because it would give you a mechanism for which the county to actually take a position on that,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
And he pointed that it will be the Board of Supervisors that ultimately makes the decisions on county policy around solar panels.
Saines said he does not intend the near-term work on solar arrays to impact the ongoing work on new county zoning, which will also include a discussion on solar arrays. His initiative calls for an examination that includes siting criteria, agricultural impacts and prime soils protection, viewsheds and visual impacts, wildlife and ecological environmental impacts, property value impacts, tax revenue and economic impacts, and current and future land use and permitting processes.
“I think it’s definitely something we need to have address now in in our county,” Saines said.
Supervisors passed Saines’ motion 7-2, with Buffington and Kershner opposed.
Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) said she sees no problem with views of solar panels from rural attractions.
“When I drive past renewable energy sources, windmills, solar farms, I kind of beam with pride knowing that we aren’t killing the environment, but we’re creating energy,” Briskman said. “So, I don’t know that I would be bothered by going to a brewery and seeing a solar farm.”
She also expressed concern about involving the county’s Rural Economic Development Council in that work, calling a special interest.