JCV vs. CITY OF RANSON (REZONING CASE) Summary — On...
CLEAN ENERGY VS CLEAN GOVERNMENT
Jefferson County Vision previously provided a notice of the first application before the Public Service Commission to site a solar energy facility in Jefferson County. Our mission is to fight for a clean environment and transparent government. We see the proposed installation of a Solar Exempt Wholesale Generator (EWG) here as a conflict between these two goals. This information is provided to explain what an EWG is, our position on the installation of facilities in Jefferson County, and recommendations of what citizens can do.
DEFINITION: A Solar EWG facility – as determined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – generates electricity solely through solar photovoltaic or other solar methods, includes only interconnecting transmission lines and is not owned by a utility. The term “exempt” in the designation refers to exemptions from the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 2005. The statutory definition of an EWG requires that an EWG be exclusively in the business of owning or operating, or both owning and operating, all or part of one or more eligible facilities and selling electric energy at wholesale.
One such EWG application is currently before the Public Service Commission for approval, Wild Hill (CASE Number 20-0845-E-SCS-PW.) A virtual public comment hearing is scheduled at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2021. (www.psc.state.wv.us (hot topic section)) This one installation involves 795 acres and is located between Kabletown Road and Route 340, adjacent to the Cloverdale Heights subdivision. There are several more EWGs in the pipeline for Jefferson County. With the recent passage of Zoning Amendment ZTA19-03, EWGs would be allowed “by right” on up to 80 percent of the land in Jefferson County.
Wild Hill Project Site Location
OUR POSITION: JCV supports renewable energy. While renewable energy, whether by solar, wind or other methods is not perfect, we believe it is better for our environment than using fossil fuels. In addition, renewable energy can be an economic boon as more companies demand access to renewable energy. However, we do not support our county’s farmland being turned into solar industrial installations that provide limited benefits to the local community. These installations are not “solar farms” but large-scale power generation facilities. Unlike public utilities, EWGs have no consumers, and all electricity generated would be for wholesale, most likely to out of state entities. We support reasonable development of EWGs that take into account the opinions and concerns of the citizens that will be having them as neighbors. Recent changes to our zoning ordinances have paved the way for what amounts to being another extractive industry to be established in West Virginia with virtually no local control that could turn thousands of acres of prime farmland into utility sites. How we lost local control is an example of good intentions waylaid by bad government.
HOW WE GOT HERE: In December of 2019, a landowner came to the Jefferson County Planning Commission with a request for a Conditional Use Zoning change in the rural district. This meant that he was requesting a zoning change so solar facilities could be installed on his farmland. The request was taken into a private working group away from attendees and came out 5 months later recommended for “permitted use” of solar energy facilities. This meant that large-scale solar utility installations would be allowed “by right” on about 80 percent of all property in Jefferson County. This alarmed many citizens, not just JCV, and the Jefferson County Commission (JCC) had concerns as well.
This summer the JCC held workshops and a hearing where every person that spoke, including JCV, supported solar energy, but not all supported the permitted use. On October 1, 2020 the JCC approved the zoning amendment. Early in November, Wild Hill Solar, LLC applied for a solar siting certificate with the Public Service Commission (PSC). The advertisement for Wild Hill was printed on November 18, two days after the revised zoning ordinance was supposed to have gone into effect. Without “substantial protest,” as described by the PSC, the application would be approvable on December 18.
However, on November 12 a group of citizens filed suit against the JCC’s passing of the zoning amendment and received a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the amendment. The TRO was extended until a continuation hearing that held by Circuit Court Judge, The Honorable Debra McLaughlin on December 15.
On the 10th of December a settlement was reached in this case and the Jefferson County Commission vacated their approval of the zoning amendment and returned it to the Jefferson County Planning Commission. The draft agenda for the PC’s January 12, 2021 meeting has this topic for discussion and possible action. JCV applauds the action these citizens took on behalf of all of us and will be keeping a close eye on the PC’s actions as they reconsider the solar amendment.
We don’t know the impact of the case on Jefferson County and if any, on Wild Hill’s Solar Siting application. And who is Wild Hill?
Wild Hill Solar, LLC is a Delaware corporation that was registered in WV in May of 2020. It’s primary address is in San Diego CA. Wild Hill is indirectly owned by EDF Renewables, which is in turn owned by a French company that is largely owned by the French Government. It is evident that profits from the EWG will not stay in West Virginia. While the total cost of the project is $125M and the construction period will require laborers there is no guarantee that the employees would be West Virginians. Operation of the facility after construction will only require around four employees.
Wild Hill Project Site Plan
WHAT YOU CAN DO: There are many unanswered questions concerning the proposed installation and thus JCV recommends the following actions:
Familiarize yourself with the facility’s application at: http://www.psc.state.wv.us/WebDocket/default.htm
-Search by the Case Number 20-0845-E-SCS-PW ; Choose Activities to view associated documentation. The full site application is the third document from the bottom and is a very large file.
Contact the WV PSC – Letters of protest and comment may be filed at any time during processing of Wild Hill’s application.
The PSC scheduled a virtual public comment hearing at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2021. (www.psc.state.wv.us (hot topic section)) Information on how to attend these hearings will be available on the PSC website by January 27.
Jefferson County Vision’s petition to intervene has been accepted by the PSC with a virtual evidentiary hearing to be held at 9:30 AM on January 29, 2021. JCV took the step of intervening because it is only through intervention that evidence may be discovered and presented to the PSC for formal review. We thank all those who exercised their rights by submitting comments.
Comments to the PSC on case 20-0845-E-SCS-PW can be:
–submitted online now,
-sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or
-delivered by mail to the address at the bottom of the PSC Notice of Filing.
-Make sure to include the Case Number in the subject line.
Recommendations to include in your communication:
-PSC rules require that a formal hearing be held unless waived, not waived unless protest is substantial;
-PSC should not have ignored the opinions of Staff in waiving solar siting rule requirements of transmission line support drawings in the application;
-The information in the advertisement was unclear and unreadable;
-This facility serves little benefit to the people of Jefferson County and an unknown amount of tax income. The economic impact study is severely flawed in many ways. (pg 92-104);
-The permitted use of solar facilities zoning for the rural land is under litigation; required permits may not be forthcoming;
-Affidavit of Emily Dalager (EDF Project development Manager) has an incorrect date for start of operations and her timeline for construction contradicts the plan of Environmental Consultants Potesta & Associates in removal of trees;
-There is no proof that Wild Hill has provided information to adjacent landowners as noted by the State Historical Program Officer (pg 30-31 of the application) This notification should be done before the requested hearing to allow for those citizens most affected to be aware of what is occurring in their backyard.
-Consider filing to become an intervenor. The PSC is not required to take any action on comments, but an intervenor gets “a seat at the table.”
-Information on becoming an intervenor can be found in Rule 150CSR1: https://apps.sos.wv.gov/adlaw/csr/readfile.aspx?DocId=50982&Format=PDF
-Intervention, Rule 12.6 (pg. 17) – Any person having a legal interest in the subject matter of any hearing or investigation pending before the Commission may petition or move orally for leave to intervene in the proceeding.
-Once an entity has filed a petition to intervene…that entity is considered a party for the purpose of making filings with the Commission in accordance with Rule 4 (pg. 6).
-Discovery Requests, Rule 13.6 (pg. 20) – Discovery requests must be pertinent to substantial issues in the proceedings. Discovery requests as used in these Rules, include interrogatories, requests for production of documents and things and requests for admissions.
Zoning and Land Development Amendment
Ordinance #ZTA19-03 to allow solar energy facilities consisting of photovoltaic panel technology to process as a principal permitted land use was proposed by the Jefferson County Planning Commission to the Jefferson County Commission (JCC).
Click here to view the timeline, supporting documentation, presentations and drafts of the amendment on the Planning Commission website.
Solar renewable energy facilities site development standards must be provided in a concept plan including screening, fencing and decommissioning large arrays of photovoltaic panels, as defined in the amendment. In response to the proposed solar Zoning Ordinance, the County Engineering department recommended revisions to the Jefferson County Stormwater Management Ordinance, which will be addressed after the solar facilities amendment.
The JCC held a public hearing virtually (online) on file #ZTA19-03, an amendment to the JC Zoning and Land Development on Friday, September 11, 2020.
JCV’s recommendations can be found below, or for a shortened version, you can download this PDF guide.
Examine the amendment. You can review a copy of the draft amendment to the zoning ordinance, which includes the proposed revisions to the Stormwater Management Ordinance, here.
Write the Jefferson County Commission. If you have any questions, email email@example.com.
Be aware of a second public hearing. This second public hearing will be held directly following the solar text amendment public hearing to obtain comments on the amendment to the Stormwater Management Ordinance. Revisions require 1) vegetal cover restoration without chemical fertilization; 2) panel modules situated on mild slopes allowing the passage of runoff underneath; and 3) an erosion and sediment control plan.
JCV recommends the County Commission revise the zoning ordinance guidelines modifying the proposed principal permitted use to a conditional use process.
A requirement for minimum or maximum acreage is undefined.
It is unknown how many facilities are planned, or their size or location.
Principal permitted and conditional land use table (page 17) recommended to be modified to include Solar Energy Facility, in the Jefferson County Zoning and Land Development Ordinance.
Large-scale solar utilities by right would be allowed as long as the developer’s concept plan incorporates the text amendment guidelines.
The facility construction could include accessory components of inverters, transformers, and connections to transmission lines and substations, following local, state and federal permitting regulations.
In proposal #ZTA19-03, as a principal permitted use, solar facilities could be located by right within 90 percent of county land zoned general commercial, highway commercial, light industrial, major industrial, rural, residential growth, residential-light industrial-commercial, and industrial commercial.
JCV recommends that as part of the conditional use for development, an environmental impact assessment is conducted and includes appropriate soil samples (borings) and geotechnical analysis.
Suggested conditional use requirements include: documentation of surrounding archaeological, historical and wetland designations; documentation of flood risk; documentation and reporting of identified sinkholes; documentation on loss of wildlife and species habitat; documentation of impacts on surrounding property owners including value, viewshed, noise and light.
A conditional land use may be permitted in a particular zoning district only after review by the Board of Zoning Appeals and upon issuance of a conditional use permit, subject to requirements of each district and/or other requirements of the Zoning and Land Development Ordinance.
The amendment defines these main guidelines that a large-scale solar installation of photovoltaic panel technology must meet:
Screening. Solar panels must be set back 100 feet from all external/perimeter property lines and from the edge of any state road. Accessory components require 25 feet setback from the perimeter. A 20-foot buffer screen (vegetative or opaque fencing) is required when panels are located within 200 feet of a residence.
Fencing. A security fence between 6 to 10 feet with secured gates shall be erected around the operating areas of the facility.
Decommissioning. An outline of the lease duration and plan for proper removal and disposal of the panel system, mounting structures and the reasonable restoration of real property must be approved. The facility must post surety to enable the decommissioning completion.
The development of alternative energy can be viewed with benefits and disadvantages as Jefferson County pursues the creation of and use of a variety of energy sources (including renewable energy) within the County while converting rural land to non-agricultural uses. The form and types of development that take place in the rural environment should be respectful of the rural culture and historic nature of the community.
Financial security for landowners; alternative option to residential development cycles
The renewable energy transition from coal for the county; no requirements of county services; commercial/industrial use tax payments
Solar is a quiet neighbor
Solar reduces CO2 typical during energy production
Agricultural land and pristine soils are removed from food production
Stormwater runoff causes erosion and degradation
WV legislation supporting power
Purchase agreements do not exist
Guiding Development Decisions
From Jefferson County’s Comprehensive Plan, Envision 2035, Appendix D – Goals and Objectives:
Goal #10: Maintain and Enhance Community Services and Infrastructure Capacity for Water, Sanitary Sewer, Storm Sewer, and Other Utilities; and Enable the Provision of Orderly and Efficient Services and Advanced Technologies
Objective #9: Encourage the creation of and use of a variety of energy sources (including renewable energy) within Jefferson County in ways that respect the character of the County.
From Jefferson County’s Stormwater Management Ordinance:
In 2014, Jefferson County adopted a new stand-alone Stormwater Management Ordinance that effectively regulates the quantity of stormwater generated by local development. This includes standards related to water quality and provisions for low impact design stormwater provisions.
These standards help to protect, maintain, and enhance the environment of Jefferson County and the public health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Jefferson County by controlling discharges of pollutants to Jefferson County’s stormwater system, and maintain and improve the quality of the receiving waters into which all stormwater flows, including, without limitation, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, wetlands, and groundwater of the community.
A copy of Jefferson County’s Comprehensive Plan, Envision 2035, and the Future Land Use Planning Guide is available here.
Jefferson County’s Stormwater Management Ordinance is available here.
The Observer, https://wearetheobserver.com/solar-in-jefferson/
The Observer, 7/30/20 – Perspectives from a Local Solar Professional: https://wearetheobserver.com/perspectives-from-a-local-solar-professional/
The Observer, 9/1/20 – Sparking A Conversation: Local Farmers Discuss Large-Scale Solar Development: https://wearetheobserver.com/sparking-a-converstation/
Jefferson County Development Authority, 08/19/20 – JCDA recommendations on alternative energy amendment. Page 89 http://www.jeffersoncountywv.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=18801
The Journal, 08/06/20 – Commissioners mull solar facilities in Jefferson County, public hearing set for Sept. 11: https://www.journal-news.net/journal-news/commissioners-mull-solar-facilities-in-jefferson-county-public-hearing-set-for-sept-11/article_5200d0f0-81e5-5df0-a244-74dbea9b3f84.html
The Journal, 05/06/20 – Jefferson Co. Planning Commission approves solar energy text amendment for public comment: https://www.journal-news.net/journal-news/jefferson-co-planning-commission-approves-solar-energy-text-amendment-for-public-comment/article_cb1fde11-c349-572e-9411-c4899a24dbc1.html
Spirit of Jefferson, 8/26/20 – EXPERTS: Few Jefferson County sites can accommodate solar farms: http://www.spiritofjefferson.com/news/article_ebbbebec-e71a-11ea-a0bf-cbc866ea69b0.html
Spirit of Jefferson, 8/19/20 – Commissioners continue raising questions on solar farms: http://www.spiritofjefferson.com/news/article_697d4830-dca0-11ea-b096-37db25cf5340.html
Spirit of Jefferson, 7/1/20 – County planners give solar farms a favorable nod: http://www.spiritofjefferson.com/news/article_20731858-bbae-11ea-ab0c-c730a2eae913.html
Sierra Club, 01/20 – Clean Energy Works in West Virginia: https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/blog/2130%20Clean%20Energy%20Works%20in%20West%20Virginia_05_web%20%281%29.pdf
The Nature Conservancy -Solar Development in WV, A pathway to a brighter economic future: https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/solar-in-WV.pdf
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