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Landowners voice support for solar energy development in Bedford County
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Landowners voice support for solar energy development in Bedford County

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Several Bedford County residents encouraged county supervisors on Monday to keep moving forward with solar ordinance reviews and research that may allow solar farms in Bedford County if property owners wish to use their land for such purposes.

In its last meeting Oct. 26, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 to allow county staff to review the existing solar ordinance and recommend possible changes that would make solar farms permissible under certain conditions within the county.

Bedford County has stayed out of the solar power development game so far, primarily because under previous conditions, solar power did not generate revenue for a locality.

Legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly introduced a revenue-share option for localities that opt in to allow solar farms, part of efforts to encourage renewable energy. Revenue share allows local governments to assess certain amounts of money per megawatt of capacity generated by solar farms, providing a new source of revenue for the locality as well as for landowners using their property for solar development. With this financial incentive, County Administrator Robert Hiss said, solar development seems more attractive.

Leroy Saunders, who owns farmland off Fancy Grove Road in District 2, wants to use part of his land for solar energy.

“Early in my life, I remember people talking about how wonderful it would be if we could harness the sun’s energy. And that has happened now. I think that’s just amazing, that that can be done. It’s renewable, clean,” he said.

Saunders said a prime motivator for his and his wife’s desire to have a solar farm on part of their land was to preserve that land for future generations of their family. Additionally, Saunders pointed out the chance for a new revenue source for the county by revenue sharing. The financial benefits would no longer be confined to landowners.

“I hope this board will see fit to join in a legacy for Bedford County. This is a good thing,” Saunders said.

One of Saunders’ daughters, Sarah Saunders Foree, also spoke in favor of solar farms in the county.

“I think solar doesn’t mean the end of farming on the land that uses the solar panels,” she said. Foree added her family was exploring ways to continue using the land underneath solar panels, whether by growing certain crops or keeping sheep.

Mark Martin spoke in favor of allowing solar farms in the county.

“I think if we, as a county, walk away from it, we will miss an opportunity,” he said of solar energy. “Yes, you might not want it in certain places. It might not fit in all places. But it should be permitted use with a special use permit.”

Mark Wagner also supported solar ordinance revision.

“We’ve been approached for years by the solar folks, and it was always stopped at first meeting because the county wasn’t going ahead with the solar initiative,” Wagner said.

Though several supervisors remained reluctant at the idea of possible solar development in Bedford County, including concerns raised by District 3 Supervisor Charla Bansley and District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker about possible aesthetic impacts on the county’s landscape and District 4 Supervisor John Sharp’s worry over possible harm to agricultural land in Bedford’s agricultural community, District 2 Supervisor Edgar Tuck said multiple residents of his district have approached him wanting to use some of their land as a solar farm. Under the county’s current solar ordinance, they cannot, even though they wish to.

“If we are really about individual property rights, then we should be willing to let Planning Commission give us something to consider as an option for property owners who fit certain criteria in this district,” Tuck said Oct. 26.

County Administrator Robert Hiss said in a September work session the county has also been approached by various solar developers interested in setting up solar farms in Bedford County.

“I’d rather wait before we go down this path,” Sharp said Oct. 26. “Not saying I won’t go down the path. I’m just not sure I want to go down it right now.”

The Town of Bedford has a solar farm on Draper Road that has been operating since December 2017. Campbell and Appomattox counties also have solar farms operating.

“They’re not doing it because it’s cool. They’re doing it because it’s a true revenue source for all,” Martin said.

Solar farms typically have 35-year lifespans. After those years, the land can be decommissioned and returned to agricultural use.

Bedford County staff will continue researching solar development and reviewing the current ordinance to make possible recommended changes that would allow solar farms. No date was announced for when action might be taken regarding any recommended ordinance amendments.

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