This SIGHTLINE covers topics surrounding the development of utility-scale solar energy generation facilities in Jefferson County:
- Opportunities for public involvement
- Why the County is considering amending its zoning ordinance
- What determines the location of a solar development
- The status of proposed and potential solar projects in the County
- How zoning influences land use
- How solar could benefit the rural economy
On April 5, 2022, the County Commission announced a settlement in a court case that had blocked the implementation of a zoning ordinance amendment that would have permitted utility-scale solar projects in Jefferson County. The Commission also voted to amend a previously proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to allow for utility-scale solar projects with restrictions depending on the land use designation in the Comprehensive Plan.
The next step for the Commission is to request the Planning Commission to draft a new zoning ordinance amendment for utility-scale solar that would allow these facilities as a permitted (“by right”) use only in the areas of the county designated for urban growth and preferred growth, and as a conditional use in all other areas of the county.
A Timeline For Solar In Jefferson County
In early 2020, a landowner in the Kabletown district petitioned the Jefferson County Planning Commission to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to allow for commercial-scale solar projects to be developed in Jefferson County. This initial request asked to allow solar facilities as a conditional use in the rural zoning district. Acting on that request, the County has twice attempted, and failed, to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to permit solar projects. The County Commission voted on April 5, 2022 for a settlment in the court case that had blocked the second attempt and began the process to redraft and review a modified amendment to permit solar projects.
[READ MORE: Amending the County Zoning Ordinance — A Timeline]
How Solar Plugs Into The Power Grid
The process for siting and connecting a new source of power to the energy grid requires years of planning and research. Part of this process includes a review by PJM Interconnection (PJM). PJM evaluates new projects to determine the feasibility and requirements for connecting to grid in West Virginia, as well as in several other states in the central and eastern U.S.
The PJM Connection Queue is an online database that tracks the all proposed utility-scale energy projects in the Mid-Atlantic. Currently, five utility-scale solar projects have been proposed in Jefferson County. Although there is some capacity for additional projects in Jefferson County, suitable sites are much more limited than zoning maps might indicate.
[READ MORE: Mapping Proposed and Potential Utility-Scale Solar Projects in Jefferson County]
A Discussion In The Community
The community discussion of commercial-scale solar generation facilities touches on issues related to the environment, land use, the local farm economy, the regional economy, and the effect of these large-scale facilities on adjacent residential and agricultural land owners.
Balancing Land Use
Land is a limited resource, which is why making decisions about land use often turns into a balancing act of priorities. From preserving scenic vistas, to building affordable housing, to increasing renewable and dependable energy sources, and encouraging economic growth, all of these concerns come into play when trying to define what balanced land use means.
[READ MORE: Concerns about broad expansion of zoning rules for utility-scale solar development]
Solar In The Rural Economy
The rural economy is evolving. Solar has the potential to become part of the new landscape and enable farmers and other agricultural operators to remain financially viable.
[READ MORE: How Solar Could Help Sustain Local Agricultural Operations]
|Information and Resources About Zoning in Jefferson County|
|Zoning Ordinances (Jefferson County Website)|
|Zoning Maps (Jefferson County Website)|
|Envision Jefferson 2035 Comprehensive Plan (download PDF)|
|Future Land Use Map for Jefferson County (download JPG)|