Editorial – Hit pause button on solar farms

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

We tread carefully in endorsing any infringement on property owners’ right to do what they wish with their land.

Yet, there are times when the interests of the broader community must be protected at an individual landowner’s expense, thus the advent of zoning laws and permits over the years to regulate how property is used. Appointed planning commissions and elected local governing boards occasionally go too far with their regulations, but they get it right much more often than they get it wrong. Communities are better when reasonable land-use rules are enforced.

The proliferation of solar farms across the landscapes of Isle of Wight and Surry counties is one such occasion that demands immediate attention from leadership.  

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Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission voted 9-1 on Feb. 28 to advance to county supervisors a proposed ordinance that would impose a near-moratorium on solar farms. An “energy policy” amendment to Surry County’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan that would limit utility-scale projects to 10% of the county’s developable land is on its way for a final decision by the Board of Supervisors. Surry’s Planning Commission voted on Feb. 6 to recommend supervisors approve it.

Approval by supervisors in both counties would buy planning and zoning staff time to further study an issue that’s not going away. Solar is here to stay as a renewable energy source, and we applaud the private sector’s considerable investment in technology that will protect our planet from greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, rural America’s landscape shouldn’t be covered with unsightly solar panels, which themselves could be environmentally harmful at the end of their lifespan. American agriculture already faces serious economic threats and, some experts fear, extinction, leaving our nation completely dependent on exports to clothe and feed its population. Prime farmland covered up with solar panels could hasten farming’s demise.   

Many smart people are studying the long-range costs and benefits of solar farms. Not to be discounted in the experts’ analyses, especially in an economically distressed county like Surry, is the tax revenue solar projects bring to local governments’ budgets. 

Time is needed to better understand all of the implications. We encourage both Isle of Wight and Surry supervisors to approve the recommendations of their planning commissions.