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Hanover officials adopt solar power framework

Two people work to install solar panels on metal beams
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
Two people install a solar array.

The board of supervisors approved a guide that encourages the solar energy in parts of the county.

After 18 months of input from county residents and committee members, Hanover’s Board of Supervisors adopted a framework that paves the way for solar power to brighten up the county.

The policy was adopted during the board's regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 23, two months after a draft was first presented to the board in June.

Since then, the framework derived by county officials received input from members of the community and additional comments from members of Hanover’s planning commission and community developer committee.

Planning Director Jo Ann Hunter said the policy is a culmination of recommendations that enhance the county’s goals of inviting revenue-generating businesses while maintaining Hanover’s rural character.

Hunter previously told VPM News the county began considering its stance on alternative energy sources about five years ago. The board narrowed its focus when the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Actin 2020, which was signed into law by Democratic then-Gov. Ralph Northam.

Hunter said the county has received “a lot of interest from developers” after the approval of a 22-acre solar facility in western Hanover, but residents and elected officials were hesitant about the prospect of bringing solar.

“Many of our citizens indicated that they did not want to see solar farms taking up a lot of large portions of the rural areas,” Hunter said. “The previous board policy, solar use was permitted throughout the county except for areas that were planned for commercial industrial uses. The planning commission made some significant changes to this.”

The policy presented to the board accounts for solar installation for ground- or roof-mounted systems, agricultural or industrial districts, large-scale solar facilities and public service storage systems.

As written, the county recoups machinery and tools tax revenue from large-scale energy producers. Other financial compensation agreements based on per-megawatt cost would contribute to the county’s capital improvement plans, earmarked for projects related to broadband and public safety.

Depending on the location of a facility, other capital projects could be considered for financial impacts as allowed by state code.

The policy also presents preferred locations and land-use requirements for each designated installation category, a subject that ruffled feathers within the county, according to Henry District Supervisor Sean Davis.

“One of the things that we heard from a lot of citizens is there needs to be an opportunity for land preservation,” Davis said. “Particularly for areas outside our suburban service area, people want to see residential developments, not industrial development.”

Davis added that while this policy allows large areas in Hanover’s rural and agricultural zones to be designated for other uses, it’s still the board’s purview to determine the best use for any given project.

The design standards presented within the policy also assert a focus on preserving the county’s rural character with the inclusion of forested buffers, viewshed canopies and protections for historical or natural resources.

Ashland District Supervisor Faye Pritchard added that the policy gives farmers the option to repurpose family-owned farms for different uses, rather than see portions of Hanover’s agriculture zones be unused.

“Farmers have to have options,” Prtichard said. “Solar farms or solar facilities are one of the options that farmers can have to maintain farmland. … Having a set of guidelines does not obligate us to approve any solar farm or facility in any place that we don't feel that it's appropriate.

Moving forward, the county will have to field applications from companies interested in settling in Hanover. At least four companies have already expressed interest in doing so, according to city planners.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.