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Augusta County supervisors, planners rightly limit solar power plants

solar farm
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Augusta Countys invaluable and irreplaceable assets — its rural character, rich farmland and scenic beauty — are in danger of being sacrificed in pursuit of the pipedream that is electricity from solar power plants, much of which is for use elsewhere.

Based on experience with solar project proposals in recent years, the Board of Supervisors has rightly imposed restrictions on solar projects. Some now urge the Board to relax those limits based on overwrought and scientifically questionable environmental concerns and the lure of easy money. Doing so would be a grave mistake.

Solar is not the environmentally benign panacea it is claimed to be. Manufacturing and erecting solar panels require the mining of iron, aluminum, copper, rare earth and other minerals, and the use of fossil fuels.  Solar panels that are damaged or no longer useful cannot be economically recycled. They find their way into the few landfills that will accept them. Farmland is substantially degraded and most likely lost forever. Rural viewsheds are despoiled; established neighborhoods disrupted. All to produce electricity that is intermittent and unreliable requiring backup from coal, gas or nuclear power plants or storage in large batteries that carry their own environmental hazards.

Solar’s claimed economic benefits are more than offset by costs not fully accounted for. Taxpayer-funded subsidies fuel solar projects. Where widely deployed, electric rates increase. At best, a handful of permanent jobs are created. Relatively modest payments spread out over decades hardly compensate for foreclosing land from planned future development that would provide jobs and needed housing bringing current tax revenues to pay for infrastructure investments already made and services for existing and new residents. Property values and revenues from tourism are adversely affected.

These considerations more than justify the limits that the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission have placed on solar power plant construction to preserve what makes Augusta County the unique place that it is. Indeed, they support further restrictions to ensure that solar is installed only on rooftops, parking lots and in areas that are unsuited for higher and better uses. To do otherwise would be contrary to the vision for the county set forth in the Comprehensive Plan and a disservice to residents who have invested their lives and money in making their homes here.

Rick Pfizenmayer is the owner of Barterbrook Manor Farm in Stuarts Draft.