The Berkley Group participated in three regional seminars across the state in June to engage with localities on considerations for utility-scale solar projects. Invited speakers and attendees shared concerns, challenges, and lessons learned thus far and discussed options for improving the process and prospects.
The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley hosted seminars June 11 in Harrisonburg and June 18 in Middletown (https://shenandoahalliance.org/shining-light-on-utility-scale-solar/). The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) hosted a seminar June 27 in McKenney (http://www.vaco.org/utility-scale-solar-seminar/). Across the state, attendees shared similar concerns:
What is the locality’s role and responsibility in DEQ’s Permit by Rule process?
How can a locality increase capacity to process project applications, and, if applicable, perform required inspections during construction?
Do the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance need to explicitly address utility-scale solar?
How can localities manage potential negative impacts of the projects, such as removing land from agricultural use, land development that brings few jobs, and environmental, historic, and cultural impacts?
How much or how little does the locality financially benefit from a project given the state-mandated exemption for Machine and Tool tax and depreciation schedule for solar equipment?
Over the last five years, Virginia has seen a dramatic increase in its installed solar capacity, growing from 17 MW in 2014 to more than 320 MW installed by October 2018. This is due to many factors: decreasing cost of solar panels, growing demand from companies and governments (the Virginia Energy Plan commits the state to 16% renewable energy by 2022), financial incentives for pollution reduction equipment, and our sunny latitude.
The Permit by Rule (PBR) process is managed by DEQ to permit wind, solar, and biomass-based generation resources with a capacity less than 150 MW. To date, DEQ has issued permits for solar projects totaling 1,000 MW and received an additional Notices of Intent totaling 3,500 megawatts.
Dominion Energy has committed to solar as necessary for clean energy growth. In November 2018, Dominion stated they have 30 sites generating 824 MW solar. They have also announced plans to develop multiple utility-scale solar projects in Virginia through 2020 to meet the state’s energy plan target. In addition, they project they could add at least 5,200 megawatts of solar in the state over the next 25 years (to 2045) to meet customers' energy needs.
This accelerated development of renewable energy will increase the duties of local governments and state agencies tasked with land use, permitting, and environmental decision making. Local governments must determine if solar facility applications are in accord with their Comprehensive Plan (a “2232 review”) and in compliance with their land use ordinances.
The Berkley Group has assisted Mecklenburg County, Sussex County, Greensville County, and others in developing procedures and protocol for handling utility-scale solar project applications. If you need assistance, contact Darren Coffey at email@example.com.