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Solar Power Showdown in Virginia: State vs. Local Governments

Virginia's lawmakers face a showdown over solar farm approval authority. As the state pushes for decarbonization, tensions rise between environmental goals and local control.

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Salman Khan
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Solar Power Showdown in Virginia: State vs. Local Governments

Solar Power Showdown in Virginia: State vs. Local Governments

Virginia's Solar Power Showdown: State vs. Local Governments

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In a battle that could redefine the future of solar energy in Virginia, lawmakers are locked in a heated debate over who should hold the ultimate authority to approve solar farm projects: the state or local governments. As the Old Dominion State pushes towards its goal of decarbonizing its electric grid by midcentury, tensions are rising over the balance between environmental progress and local autonomy.

A New Era of Solar Power

With the introduction of legislation to expand Dominion Energy's existing shared solar program, Virginia lawmakers have taken a significant step towards democratizing solar power. Customers of Appalachian Power would now be able to subscribe to solar power without having to install panels on their own rooftops. The proposed bills aim to cap the size of participating shared solar facilities and determine the value of solar energy to the grid over the next two years.

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Incentives are also being considered for building shared solar facilities on brownfields, landfills, and rooftops. However, the House and Senate versions of the bills still need reconciliation, particularly regarding considerations for low-income customers and minimum monthly bills.

The Battle for Control

As Virginia advances its renewable energy goals, the question of who should have the final say over solar farm construction has become increasingly contentious. Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) have proposed bills that would give state utility regulators the power to override local government denials of solar projects or prevent localities from banning solar development altogether.

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These proposals have garnered support from environmental groups and energy companies, who argue that a faster adoption of renewables is necessary to meet the mandates of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. However, local governments are pushing back, claiming that these bills unfairly strip them of their authority on decisions with immediate local impacts.

A Delayed Decision

The Virginia Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor has delayed a decision on Sen. Deeds' bill, which sought to shift siting approval of large-scale solar farm operations from localities to the State Corporation Commission. The bill would have affected solar energy facilities of 50 megawatts or more and wind energy facilities of 100 megawatts or more.

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Amherst County officials were among those opposing the bill, raising concerns about circumventing local land use regulations. Delegates Sullivan and Deeds' bills have also been postponed until next year, while Sen. VanValkenburg's proposal has passed out of the committee.

As the debate continues, the future of solar power in Virginia hangs in the balance. The stakes are high, and the outcome could set a precedent for the role of state and local governments in shaping the nation's clean energy landscape.

For now, the people of Virginia wait with bated breath, watching as their lawmakers navigate the delicate balance between environmental progress and local governance.

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