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Reader concerned about solar farm affect of property values

Dear Editor of The Southwest Times

April 27, 2021

 

I applaud David Gravely’s editorial, “Why Live in Pulaski County” and agree with many of his points about the values of our county. I chose Pulaski County for my home; I’ve been involved in the county in many ways for twenty-eight years either leasing or owning land. I served on the Board of Supervisors for the fairgrounds for six years and have been involved with several county celebration committees. Sixteen years ago, my husband and I built our home and a small horse farm in the historic Back Creek Valley section of the county. We intentionally chose that spot because of the agricultural zoning. We saved and planned for a long time before being able to accomplish this dream.

In January of 2021, the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors voted to allow a special use permit to change the agricultural zoning in my area to industrial so that Hecate Energy (a Chicago company) can build 2,700 acres of solar panels. My home and around 100 other homes in the county will be bordered by black glass, steel, and 6-8 ft. chain link fencing by this time next year. Many homes and farms, like ours, will have hundreds of acres of solar panels on two or more sides. Historic Back Creek Valley will be covered with panels encroaching close to the Cloyd Mountain Civil War battle ground.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge supporter of clean energy and I’m proud that my county supports green efforts as well. However, we already have an excellent source of clean energy in our county with the Claytor Lake Dam. Hecate has been very clear that they will sell this solar “farm” to another outside company who will sell the electricity to “the grid,” which mostly supports the east coast. There are better ways to have solar energy and certainly better places in the county that were already zoned industrial rather than weaving around private homes.

I am not alone in my opinion; the vast majority of people who attended both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors’ voting meetings registered on an official sign-in sheet that they were against this plan. An overwhelming majority of the speakers at both meetings opposed the “farms.” The county is proud of the fact that we will house one of the largest solar farms on the east coast. There may possibly be a reason why this will be one of the largest: other counties will not sell out their residents like this. Other counties are aware of the history of large companies exploiting cash-strapped regions.

This is a complicated issue and many counterarguments come into play, such as:

 

  1. Necessity of clean energy: I fully support green initiatives in our country. But there are studies easily available that prove better and more effective ways to achieve green sources of energy that don’t take away the resources of residents like Pulaski County is doing. In fact, many states are restricting the use of prime farm land for solar farms and are intensely avoiding the changing of agricultural zoning to industrial zoning. A simple internet search will reveal countless articles with specific studies about this very issue.

 

  1. The county needs more revenue: I, along with many other, agree with this. In fact, I voted in favor of the tax increase to build the new middle school and I don’t have children in school any more. Projected income from this solar project will supplement approximately 0.3% of the annual county budget while taking up nearly 3,000 acres of prime farm land. Is this the best way to provide such a miniscule percentage to our operating budget?

 

  1. Property rights: I’m a supporter of individual property rights 100%. But consider this question: If what I’m doing on my property vastly decreases my neighbors’ quality of life and their property value, is that the right thing to do? Just because it’s legal and allowed, is it right? And how can a county purposefully make a drastic change to zoning permits that generously line the pockets of a few while reducing the property values of many, many more residents? (It’s important to note here that the family of one of the Board of Supervisors will be leasing a significant amount of land to the solar project.)

 

One argument in favor of the solar farms at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting was that if the supporting landowners couldn’t have their solar farms, they would sell the land for a subdivision. I’d much rather live next door to homes and people than a huge industrial park of black glass and tall chain link fencing. And the county would likely receive more revenue.

 

  1. It’s progress: Ask other Appalachian communities how things turned out for them when they sold out to big energy companies. First, they came for our forests with strip mining. Then, they came for our mountains with mountain top removal. Next, they requisitioned private land use for a pipeline. Now, they’ve come for our rich valleys and farms with solar panels.

 

  1. We should trust the Board of Supervisors and the County Planning Commission: Yes—mostly. But when members stand to benefit financially can they be trusted? When we consider the abandoned buildings and projects in Pulaski and Dublin, should they be trusted with this 35-year zoning commitment when other large companies were not held accountable? One example is the Allied Chemical Company, who left behind dangerous “slag” all over the area, including leakage into Peak Creek as chemical residue seeped into our land and water. Another similar example would be Magnox, which was also a major contributor to land and water pollution because of lack of forethought. With hasty rezoning for a quick profit, the county risks long term damage to residents and to the land and watersheds yet again.

 

  1. It will supply more electricity: True, but most of this will go to the larger grid and may be used, for example, to help power Richmond, DC, and beyond. At our expense. At our sacrifice, when we already have a good source of clean energy with the dam that also provides wonderful recreation for county residents. Claytor Lake enhances the quality of life and land values for county residents. This project restricts both.

 

So yes—I loved Pulaski County and I’ll have to find a way to continue loving it. I have no choice now. Many realtors agree that the property values for those who will be surrounded by glass and steel have significantly dropped for all of us in this situation because we now, quite suddenly, live next door to a 2,700 acre industrial park. We can’t sell now. We can’t move. The joy and peace I used to feel when driving home from work have been replaced with dread. The time I used to spend outside every day, loving the land that is Pulaski County, has been replaced with not even wanting to look out of my windows. While I agree with all that you said David, I am grieving for losing the way of life I worked so hard to build in Pulaski County. Others need to know my story because it can happen to them just as easily. And their voices will not be heard.

 

Sincerely,

Nancy Taylor

 

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