Midyear 2024 Virginia Solar Industry Trends and Observations

Midyear 2024 Virginia Solar Industry Trends and Observations

For over a year, GreeneHurlocker has published a frequent newsletter discussing recent decisions made at the county level in Virginia – planning commissions and Boards of Supervisors, and occasionally Boards of Zoning Appeals – on the applications of renewables developers to build solar facilities, as well on the solar-specific revisions to Zoning Ordinances called “solar ordinances.”  As we move into the second half of 2024, we wanted to share some thoughts on trends we’ve seen during the first half of the year.


Focus on solar ordinances, solar policies and comprehensive plans 

Many Virginia counties, including Fluvanna, Greensville, Charlotte, Culpeper, Cumberland, Rockbridge, Tazewell, Washington, and Augusta, have been actively updating their solar ordinances and comprehensive plans. These updates aim to provide clearer guidelines for solar development, address concerns about land use, and incorporate state law revenue mechanisms (such as revenue share and siting agreements). Some counties, like Buckingham and Cumberland, have opted for a Solar Policy in lieu of an ordinance to maximize flexibility. 


Moratoriums and other roadblocks 

A few counties have decided to either pause consideration of solar project applications or impose outright or quasi-moratoria on solar development. Clarke County’s new ordinance requires that new solar facilities be located within one mile of two pre-existing substations, essentially shutting down solar development. Greensville County also recently decided to remove utility-scale solar from its zoning ordinance. Halifax County has a temporary moratorium on new project applications in place, in response to public backlash.


Mixed reception for solar projects 

While some solar projects, such as Hecate Energy’s 150 MW Cumberland Solar Facility, Competitive Power Ventures’ 150 MW CPV County Line Solar in Charlotte County, and RWE Clean Energy’s 100 MW Blue Rock Solar in Buckingham County, have received approval and are expected to bring significant investment to their respective counties, others have faced opposition and rejection. Projects like Energix’s 50 MW Piney River Solar located on a brownfield site in Amherst County and Palladium Energy’s 44 MW Moonlight Solar in Isle of Wight County were denied permits due to concerns about land use, environmental damage, and viewshed impacts. We’ve also seen increased community engagement at public hearings for solar projects. In Sussex County, the public hearing on Clenera’s 600 MW Blackwater Solar project drew a crowd of over 100 citizens, both supporting and opposed.


Ongoing development of large-scale projects 

Despite the challenges, several large-scale solar projects continue to progress through the approval process. These include AES’s 240 MW Sycamore Cross Solar project spanning Isle of Wight and Surry counties, Dominion’s 86 MW County Line Solar in Greensville County, and Strata Clean Energy’s new 72 MW project in Hanover County. 


Ordinance restrictions – acreage caps, radius restrictions and capacity limits

A growing trend is the implementation of numeric limitations on solar development, which drew enough concern from state legislators that a bill aiming to curb this practice was introduced this session. For example, Isle of Wight County has a 2% “prime farmland” acreage cap for solar, which has led to increased scrutiny of projects like Palladium Energy’s Moonlight Solar. Buckingham County’s new Solar Policy imposes a total acreage limit of 7,500 acres. Recently, Louisa County considered reducing its current 3% acreage cap down to 2%, but the motion failed. 


Another common restriction is imposing a minimum radius between solar projects. Augusta County’s ordinance amendments impose a two-mile radius restriction on new projects around existing or approved projects and ban solar within urban service areas. We’ve also seen counties start to impose limits on project size. Amherst County’s currently proposed ordinance includes both a two-mile radius restriction between projects and a 50-acre panel coverage limit per project, which will effectively limit future development to only small-scale projects if adopted. Similarly, Nottoway County has proposed a new solar ordinance that limits projects to only 40-acres under panel. 


Shared solar projects 

One notable development is the launch of one of Virginia’s first shared solar projects in Waynesboro. Developed by Dimension Renewable Energy, the 5 MW project provides affordable clean energy to 1,200 low-income households, demonstrating the potential for solar to benefit underserved communities.


Emerging interest in battery storage 

There is growing interest in adopting ordinance amendments related to battery storage facilities, either stand-alone or co-located with solar. Culpepper and Hanover have already implemented such ordinances, while Charlotte and Amherst are just beginning the process of adding new provisions.


Legislative developments 

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2024 Legislative Session introduced several bills aimed at changing the renewable energy development landscape, including HB 636, which would allow developers of large solar, wind, or energy storage facilities to obtain siting approval from the State Corporation Commission rather than local authorities under certain conditions, SB 697, which prohibits a locality from limiting the total area under solar panels to less than 4%, and HB 1236, which proposes changes to local land use approval processes for solar facilities. Each of these bills were either laid on the table or continued to 2025. 


However, several renewable energy bills were successful this session. HB 106 and HB 108 were both signed into law, establishing a new Shared Solar Program in Appalachian Power’s service territory and making several changes to the existing Shared Solar program in Dominion’s service territory. Another bill that passed, HB 1062, allows rooftop solar leasing with third-parties, which will strengthen energy choice for customers and reduce upfront costs of installing solar panels.


Jared Burden
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