Advocacy teams launch finest practices for siting solar close to Virginia’s many historic landscapes

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Advocacy groups release best practices for siting solar near Virginia's many historic landscapes

A new report from a trio of conservation stakeholders offers best practices for expanding utility-scale solar energy so that the growth of this vital 21st century infrastructure does not adversely affect Virginia’s many historic landscapes and resources.

A field of solar panels encompasses the battlefield where the Battle of Savage Station in Henrico County, Virginia once took place. Photo courtesy Marc Ramsey

The American Battlefield Trust (a Washington, DC-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting sacred land from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War) Cultural Heritage Partners (a law and political firm with offices in Washington and Richmond ) and Preservation Virginia (the oldest statewide conservation organization in the country) provide a roadmap for how utility-scale solar developers can carefully consider historical resources in their projects and help excel in solar projects as leaders for the rest of the country.

“While they may lack the harmful emissions of traditional power plants, solar systems can have lasting effects,” said David Duncan, president of the American Battlefield Trust. “Unlike individual or commercial solar panels that are on inconspicuous roofs, utility-scale solar panels can occupy hundreds or thousands of acres – and given the density of historical resources in the old Dominion, those mornings could be very important to the history of American democracy. ”

Virginia already has a growing appetite for utility-scale solar energy. Demand is expected to increase following the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act in 2020, which obliges the Commonwealth to switch to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 – an ambitious target that will require significant increases in solar and wind power capacity. But where should these facilities be brought into a state with such a concentration of important landscapes?

“One of the most controversial issues of the day in utility development is the visual impact of these facilities on the surrounding landscape. In this respect, a solar park is a far cry from a traditional farm. And it can transform the way visitors experience and connect with historical resources, ”said Elizabeth Kostelny, chief executive officer of Preservation Virginia. “We believe that by planning ahead and taking a context-sensitive approach, developers can avoid the tensions that arise when these interests clash.”

After examining a wide variety of real-world cases, Siting Solar in Virginia offers a range of recommendations for developers and identifies resources for planning successful projects. The report focuses on promoting responsible, consensus-based approaches and mitigation strategies.

“The goals for conservation and clean energy are compatible,” said Will Cook, special advisor for Heritage Partners. “Following the best practices in this report will help ensure that utility-scale solar systems are consistent with community conservation values.”

Solar development in the Commonwealth is advancing rapidly, including in areas of significant historical importance. Dinwiddie County is currently considering a proposal that could affect two battlefields of the Civil War. Meanwhile, the Spotsylvania County-approved sPower facility successfully avoids notable impacts on key nearby battlefields. The American Battlefield Trust previously drafted a proposed policy language to help communities evaluate solar applications based on the impact on battlefields and related resources. Culpeper County, which includes the major Civil War battlefields at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain, has incorporated this language into its utility-scale development policy.

Message from the American Battlefield Trust

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