‘COUNTY’S HEART & SOUL IS IN YOUR HANDS’
Nottoway leaders are moving to repeal the County’s renewable energy ordinance and begin anew after more opposition was voiced Thursday night to industrial solar farms.
“First and foremost, the citizens don’t want it, and I work for them,” declared District Two Supervisor John Roark, whose motion to proceed with repealing passed, 5-0. “We must protect our prime wildlife areas and save our prime industrial sites for ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT — not solar.”
Roark’s motion calls for the County to work with legal counsel on properly repealing its current ordinance to prevent applicants from trying to challenge the County’s 2019 ban on industrial solar farms.
Nottoway currently has no industrial solar or wind farms due to its moratorium, but several companies are said to have applications pending. Officials have been increasingly concerned by stories of erosion and solar farm fires in other Virginia counties.
A hearing on the proposed repeal will be held at the Board’s next regular meeting on May 26th.
Meanwhile, Supervisors and County staff agreed to schedule a field trip, which will be open to the public, to visit a solar farm at a location and date to be announced.
KEEPING TAXES LOW
Supervisor Steve Bowen said he had been in support of solar farms by reading results from citizen surveys in advance of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which is still being developed. Bowen said many respondents rated keeping taxes low as “Very Important.”
Bowen said he’d like to see the County make another effort to get more public input because only 151 surveys were completed, and 58% of respondents were age 50 and older. He also said he pushed for the County’s 2019 ban on solar farms until the County could first adopt a new Comprehensive Plan, which is still several months away.
Board Chair Lynn Shekleton cited troubling accounts in other counties of erosion, DEQ fines, heavy truck traffic damaging roads, and the fact that DEQ only recently amended its stormwater regu- lations to include water run-off from solar panels.
QUALITY OF LIFE
As they did in March, Supervisors heard again Thursday from long-time resident and retired educator Dicky Ingram, Blackstone resident Tyler Scott, and Jerry Spence, a Maryland conservation planner who last year bought land on Rt. 49 near Nottoway Falls.
“We have a BEAUTIFUL county, and I would like to keep it that way,” declared Ingram. “Don’t go jumping into something that you’re not sure of….I love the history of this county…You all have the heart and soul of this county in your hands and…you’re on this board because you want to do the right thing for people in Nottoway County.”
Ingram said promises of jobs to be created by installing solar panels are only temporary.
“They will bring people in here to go build these things. And then they’re gonna leave, they might be two or three jobs left to cut the grass, but that’s gonna be it. There’s not gonna be any other jobs. So you’re taking big chunks of rural land, and creating places that there aren’t gonna be any jobs.”
Ingram said the County needs to target and attract long-term, high-paying jobs, such as FASTC at Fort Pickett. “They’re good jobs, good-paying jobs, and they’re CLEAN jobs.”
TIES TO CHINA?
Mrs. Scott said solar farms “will have a terrible impact on our land. “Who owns these companies? Are they Chinese subsidiaries? Are they high political donors? When it comes to renewable companies, you must follow the money…What is in these panels? I think we’re all being extremely naive to think that it will not impact our soil, our rivers — not to mention, have you driven by a solar farm lately? No offense, but they’re hideous, they scar our landscape. Our value is in our land as it is.”
Spence, a Maryland conservation planner who last year bought land on Rt. 49 near Nottoway Falls, urged officials not to overlook and to embrace current positive economic impact created by Nottoway’s open fields and forests. He says he hosts many hunters from other counties, and he and those sportsmen frequent county restaurants and make other local purchases. “These resources have a financial value, the residents of Nottoway County…has the County ever considered what that use and enjoyment is for folks and what value it has for the County?…And sometimes, you know, a proposed land use change, like a potential large industrial Solar Site, could potentially limit the use and enjoyment of those properties… How can you place a dollar value on the loss of use and enjoyment of a neighboring property, and who’s responsible for that loss?”
One the newest voices publicly opposing industrial solar farms was Peggy Figlar, President of the Nottoway County Historical Society. She said there are many historical sites and graves within a 700- acre area –six miles SW of the courthouse — eyed for 400,000 solar panels by Northern Virginia based Solunesco. “I’m very concerned that our association wasn’t contacted…this ordinance needs to be revisited to include historically-significant sites and cemeteries.”
Ms. Figlar says she entertains guests from several states to help them locate ancestors and that they often remark, “‘What a beautiful, untouched paradise this is!’ They’d love to retire here, and it really, really hurts me that we’re going to put up solar panels all over the place. The landscape really hasn’t changed since the 1700s. It’s still the same…we should retain the historical rural integrity of this county. It’s admired by outsiders constantly. And that’s what brings people here.”
Ms. Figlar called solar panels “an intrusion for our way of life. And it shouldn’t be about money, it should be about heart. The county will never be the same if this is all approved.”
Open government advocate Chris Page of Blackstone asked Supervisors if former administrator Ronnie Roark has been serving as an official lobbyist for Solunesco. “I don’t see him listed as a lobbyist, but I know he’s introduced Solunesco to some Board members, and they had meetings.”
No officials responded.
Page said it’s clear Nottoway residents are opposed to large industrial farms. “What’s the long-lasting effect on well water?”
Solunesco project manager Seth Maughan arrived late and didn’t sign-up in time to speak. He asked to address Supervisors, but Board Chair Shekleton declined, citing the Board’s sign-up policy.
DISTRACTED IN 2019
Supervisor Bowen said the Board and Planning Commission have been working diligently since 2019 on improving the County’s solar and wind farm ordinance. But he said 2019 was a big election year, and more attention was being paid by both citizens and the media to office-seekers speaking at the podium rather than the solar farm issue and the County’s Comprehensive Plan survey.
Bowen even recited minutes from the Board July 2019 meeting, where then-candidate John Roark, according to those minutes, “continued to suggest the current Nottoway County Board of Supervisors continues to operate under the good ole boy system.”
Bowen at one point battled emotion while quoting his late father. “He told me ‘don’t forget where you come from…’ And I don’t know if I’m gonna run again, It’s really exhausting.” Nottoway’s next countywide elections are November 2023.
Bowen said Supervisors owe it to residents to not just drive by a solar farm “but get out the damn car and walk around and look at it.” Bowen said media reports in other counties are interesting, “But the media can sway and talk about it. But Steve Bowen wants to see it. I think all of us need to see it.”
Bowen asked his colleagues if any have walked around and truly inspected a solar farm.
Supervisor Roark responded yes, that he has.