Stafford Board Asks Planning Commission to Develop Comp Plan and Zoning Ordinance Amendments for Solar Farm Facilities

Stafford's Board of Supervisors voted this week to ask the Planning Commission to develop amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance for solar facilities and energy storage facilities. Stafford's current Comprehensive Plan includes general goals and recommendations related to the development and location of solar energy facilities; however, it does not address specific land use guidelines for evaluating solar facilities and energy storage facilities. In addition, solar facilities and energy storage facilities are permitted in various zoning districts pursuant to Stafford County Code. Still, the Code does not contain specific regulations related to such facilities' location, siting and design. The Board's goal is to establish Comprehensive Plan criteria and Zoning Ordinance regulations to mitigate potential impacts on residents and the natural environment.

Solar facilities convert sunlight into electricity and can provide a clean, locally produced energy source. There are different solar technologies, but the form utilized for Stafford's consideration is photovoltaic (PV) systems. PV systems are useful at any scale, including personal (i.e., watches, cell phone chargers), single-user (Residential/Commercial roof-top solar power applications for individual homes and businesses), community-scale (consists of a series of solar arrays, typically ground-mounted, that generate up to 5 MW of electricity), and utility-scale (large projects that generate over 5 MW of electricity). An energy storage facility stores and redelivers energy generated as needed. A typical storage facility is a building or a series of equipment cabinets that contains lithium-ion battery banks and is typically sited next to utility transfer stations or accompanies a solar facility.

There are common land use issues and impacts related to community-scale and utility-scale solar facilities that should be considered when reviewing a project. The degree of concern depends on each site's characteristics and surrounding area. It may include considerations such as visual impacts on adjacent properties, impacts on groundwater, environmental resources and wildlife habitat, noise and light impacts, and excessive construction activity.

No solar facilities currently exist in the county. Applications for two new projects were submitted to the County in July 2022. These applications will be processed under the current County regulations and in accordance with State Code provisions. Public hearings for Comprehensive Plan Compliance Reviews and CUPs will be held with the Planning Commission and Board.