Editorial – Take quick action on solar farms

Published 4:09 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors can’t procrastinate much longer on addressing a proliferation of proposed solar farms.

Today’s front page is a reminder of developers’ intense interest in the county. Reporter Stephen Faleski documents four new applications received by county planning staff over four weeks in March and April, including one proposed solar project that would consume more than 1,000 acres.

Meantime, Isle of Wight supervisors delayed a decision on an ordinance recommended by the county’s Planning Commission that would impose a near-moratorium on solar development by capping the cumulative acreage of existing and proposed solar farms to 2% of the county’s “prime” farm soils, or a maximum of 2,446 acres. 

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Unfortunately, the 2% cap would not apply to any project that submits a conditional use permit application prior to the adoption of the proposed ordinance, so the flurry of applications in March and April would be grandfathered if their conditional use permits are approved. 

As noted recently in this space, we are cautious about endorsing any infringement on property owners’ right to do what they wish with their land. There are times, however, 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.

A moratorium 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 the planet from greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, rural America can’t alone bear the burden of solar production. The panels are unsightly and there’s debate over whether the panels themselves could be environmentally harmful at the end of their lifespan.

Many smart people are studying the long-range costs and benefits of solar farms. Isle of Wight needs time to understand and consider all of the pluses and minuses.

Supervisors should follow the advice of planning commissioners and impose a moratorium now.