Speakers ask Halifax County supes to place more limits on solar projects

The proliferation of utility-scale solar farms in Halifax County — 17 projects have been granted permits so far — brought out a crowd Monday night to ask that the county make changes in land use policy to limit solar development.

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted to make one revision to the solar ordinance, requiring that new projects be located 2,000 feet from any town limit. The proposed revision will be sent to the Planning Commission for a public hearing before the board takes a final vote on adopting the change.

The discussion of solar was part of a loaded agenda for supervisors, who met Monday night for their March meeting. The board voted to advertise a $244 million draft county budget, split the Midway election precinct in two to reflect a split in House districts in the county, and accepted modifications in the opioid settlement agreement that Virginia and all other states have negotiated with drugmakers and pharmacies nationwide.

Among the highlights at Monday’s meeting:

» A contingent from We The People, the citizens group founded by Jack Dunavant of Halifax, showed up to ask for changes in how the county regulates solar generation facilities. Dunavant and his daughter, Sarah, both asked for more stringent policies while allowing that solar energy has its place.

“Solar farms, on the surface, appear as rather benign sources of power. However, the devil is in the details,” said Jack Dunavant. “We are not against solar farms, there is a definite place for them. We’re here tonight to offer our services to this board to develop reasonable regulations to protect our county from potential problems.”

He elaborated on the organization’s concerns about how solar projects are managed, and how they could affect county residents in the long run.

“Setbacks are not sufficient to protect neighbors. The land must not be sterilized by the uncontrolled use of herbicides like Roundup and 24D that poison the soils and adjacent streams,” Dunavant said. “These areas are fenced off from any form of life including human life for up to 60 years. Who cleans up afterwards?”

Sarah Dunavant said research shows solar facilities produce a number of negative effects, from crumbling road infrastructure during the construction phase to decreased property values for nearby landowners. She also argued that solar panels produce chemical runoff, with negative effects on the environment.

“Times have certainly changed, and we must all be willing to change with it,” she said. “However, must we be willing to jeopardize so much without fully knowing all the detrimental aspects of [solar]?”

“We are all neighbors. One neighbor’s freedom to build a solar facility should not be allowed to cause a drop in property value [for] another neighbor,” she continued.

The Board of Supervisors has formed a solar density committee that held a wide-ranging discussion in February on possible changes to the current solar ordinance. One idea that came up in February — changing the density threshold for projects within a 5-mile radius, to avoid clumping too many solar fields together in one area — did not come up for a full debate Monday night.

But supervisors did vote 5-1 to adopt another recommendation of the solar density committee, to require a 2,000-foot setback from any town limit for new projects.

The lone “no” vote came from ED-2 supervisor Larry Roller, a member of the solar density committee. He argued that the county’s comprehensive plan already keeps solar projects from interfering with commercial and industrial growth within the county’s towns. “We as a board [are required] by the Virginia code to certify that a solar facility is substantially in accord with the adopted county comprehensive plan. I feel a mechanism is in place to ensure that solar [doesn’t go] where it inhibits future growth.”

However, ED-6 member Stanley Brandon pointed out that the comprehensive plan is subject to periodic updates, and the proposed rule would add assurance for towns as they aim to attract economic growth.

With passage of the motion, the matter will go to the planning commission for further review, including a joint public hearing with the Board of Supervisors.

» Without discussion, supervisors unanimously voted to split the Midway voting precinct in two parts, precincts #19A and #19B, to reflect changes to the state legislative map. Halifax County is now part of two districts for the Virginia House of Delegate — House Districts 49 and 50 — following the 2021 state legislative reapportionment. The revised map spurred Halifax Del. James Edmunds to retire at the end of this year. The current delegates in Districts 49 and 50 are Republican lawmakers Danny Marshall of Danville and Tommy Wright of Lunenburg.

Midway is the only county precinct cut in half by the split districts, hence the decision to designate precincts #19A and #19B. While Midway voters will cast their ballots in separate statehouse elections, they will continue to vote at their usual location — the Midway Fire Department.

» Supervisors took up revisions to the VDOT Six-Year Road Improvement Plan. Jay Craddock from VDOT explained, “Our grant funding scenario tells that in 2029 we will be receiving approximately $160,000 to [renovate] roads. That’ll be enough money to pave about three-quarters of a mile.”

VDOT is recommending that the money be spent to hard-surface Route 816, Pete’s Trail, in ED-2, due to the current traffic volume. If adopted, the road work would get started in 2028. Supervisors voted to set an April 3 public hearing to obtain citizen input on the Six-Year Road Improvement Plan.

The board also adopted changes to the national Opioid Settlement Agreement which Virginia and Halifax County are a part of.

Simpson stated the Virginia portion of the total settlement is approximately $425 million, with Halifax County’s share estimated at $350,000 of direct payments, and another $150,000 in payments that would filter down from the state’s opioid treatment authority.

» Supervisors approved a $145,266.08 construction change order as the final major expenditure stemming from the courthouse renovation project. The latest change order is for ventilation system upgrades and modifications to the judge’s bench in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courtroom.

With acceptance of the change order, the final contract price will come in at $21,897,454, according to county staff.

Simpson said, “This is not new work; this is cleaning up the numbers from previous work authorizations. This has no effect on the county financially as these costs were already known for many months.”



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