Solar farm developer cited for western Virginia environmental violations (2024)

Laurence Hammack

A developer of solar farms, including ones in Henry and Wythe counties, allowed stormwater to flow uncontrolled from construction sites, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Energix US will pay a $158,000 fine for violating erosion and sediment control regulations at seven sites.

The agreement reached with DEQ marked the fourth time that state regulators have cited Energix for running afoul of environmental rules in developing solar farms in Southwest, Southside and Central Virginia.

Energix, an Arlington-based subsidiary of an Israeli renewable energy company, was fined $92,022 for infractions at two sites in 2022 and $97,651 involving seven sites in 2023, according to DEQ records.

Earlier this month, an Energix official signed the most recent consent agreement, which was posted to DEQ’s website this week. The agency will accept public comments through June 21 before taking final action.

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Although tapping the sun’s energy for power avoids the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels, the infractions show that development of large banks of solar panels on rural land is not without environmental peril.

An Energix official had not responded to emailed questions by 5 p.m. Tuesday. After the company was cited by DEQ last year, it said many of the problems had been corrected and it was trying to learn from past mistakes.

“At the end of the day, we are an environmental company, so things like this are really important to us,” Dominika Sink, the company’s senior director of project acquisition and development, said at the time.

The most recent enforcement action from DEQ details additional cases of non-compliance and requires that corrective action be taken, according to agency spokeswoman Irina Calos.

Last year, state inspections of a solar farm being built near the Henry County community of Axton found “large portions of the site in a denuded and not stabilized condition,” the consent order states.

Improper erosion control measures allowed the release of sediment from stormwater conveyance channels “directly into a stream without adequate perimeter controls in place,” the order states.

The 33-page document details numerous other violations at solar farms under construction in the town Wytheville and the counties of Buckingham and Sussex. Earlier DEQ inspections have found similar problems at sites in Appomattox and the counties of King William, Prince George and a second site in Henry County.

Some of the solar farms – including ones in Wytheville and Buckingham – have gone into operation since the inspections were performed, according to the company’s website. Details on others were not available.

As renewable energy grows in Virginia, in part because of a state law that requires the state’s largest power companies to provide all carbon-free electricity to their customers by mid-century, proposed solar and wind facilities are meeting resistance in some communities.

Concerned residents say solar farms mar the scenic views in rural areas and occupy land that could be used for farming. Others fear that the large expanses of solar panels will devalue nearby properties and produce the kind of environmental harm found by DEQ.

In Franklin County, such concerns have prompted Energix to withdraw two proposals for solar farms, the first in the Westlake area and the second near Wirtz.

Last June, the company said it was planning to resubmit plans for the Wirtz facility, which would be located on farmland along Brooks Mill and Burnt Chimney roads, in a modified application for a special use permit.

But county officials said this week they have not heard back from the company.

Staff writer Jason Dunovant contributed to this report.

Laurence Hammack

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Solar farm developer cited for western Virginia environmental violations (2024)


Solar farm developer cited for western Virginia environmental violations? ›

A developer of solar farms, including ones in Henry and Wythe counties, allowed stormwater to flow uncontrolled from construction sites, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Energix US will pay a $158,000 fine for violating erosion and sediment control regulations at seven sites.

What is the solar policy in Virginia? ›

Virginia's net metering law allows customers of investor-owned and cooperative electric utilities to install solar or small wind power systems on their premises to generate their own electricity.

Why are so many people against solar farms? ›

Solar Farms Will Negatively Impact the Local Economy

Related to the objection above, there is concern that solar farms are taking farmers away from farming. The bigger concern is that if farmers quit farming it will impact local stores like the seed store or manure hauling companies.

How safe is it to live near a solar farm? ›

While not a direct health risk, large solar farms can disrupt local ecosystems and habitats. It can indirectly affect human health if, for instance, it involves local water sources or land use changes leading to increased interactions between wildlife and humans.

Where is the largest solar farm in Virginia? ›

The largest solar facility in the works in Virginia is Dominion's 800-megawatt Randolph Solar project in Charlotte County, which would be composed of 4,500 acres of fenced-in solar panels plus thousands more acres of buffers and preserved land.

What is the solar ordinance in West Virginia? ›

Solar energy covenants unenforceable; penalty. (a) It is the policy of the state to promote and encourage the residential and commercial use of solar energy systems and to remove obstacles thereto to promote energy efficiency and pollution reduction.

What is the solar exemption in Virginia? ›

Before 2023, Virginia's property tax exemption for solar panel systems was optional for county and city governments. This changed in January 2023, thanks to Senate Bill 686, which makes the tax exemption mandatory for solar energy equipment with a capacity of up to 25 kW.

What is the dark side of solar farms? ›

The High Cost of Solar Trash

The financial incentive to invest in recycling has never been very strong in solar. While panels contain small amounts of valuable materials such as silver, they are mostly made of glass, an extremely low-value material.

Do solar farms harm the environment? ›

As with any type of power plant, large solar power plants can affect the environment at or near their locations. Clearing land for a power plant may have long-term effects on the habitats of native plants and animals.

What is the downside to solar farms? ›

Some of the cons of solar energy are: the cost of adding solar, depends on sunlight, space constraints, solar energy storage is expensive, installation can be difficult and environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing panels.

What is the life expectancy of a solar farm? ›

The industry benchmark for solar panel life is 25 to 30 years.

How far should a solar farm be from a house? ›

Recommendations vary, but around 500 meters for large-scale and 200 meters for small-scale farms are common. Potential issues include glare, electromagnetic fields, and environmental impact, such as air quality and fire hazards.

Does living next to a solar farm decrease property value? ›

New research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that solar farms reduce property values of homes within half a mile by an average of about 1.5%.

Is Virginia a good state for solar? ›

While Virginia isn't a sun-soaked state, Virginia hits the national average for sunlight at 205 days of sunlight per year. Late spring through late fall are good times for solar panels in Virginia. Homeowners can count on at least 7 hours of sunlight throughout that time.

What is the new solar power law? ›

Solar Panel Law in California Starting in 2024

In California, solar panels are required on all new homes to reduce carbon emissions and support renewable energy sources. Homeowners receive energy loans at a reduced rate of 75% compared to their previous payments.

What is the best state to build a solar farm? ›

The Best States for Solar Farms

When it comes to sourcing the best locations in the US for solar farm development, California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona emerge as top contenders. These states offer favorable conditions, supportive policies, and a strong commitment to renewable energy.

What are the solar incentives in Virginia? ›

Incentives and Solar Tax Exemptions in Virginia*

The 26% federal solar tax credit is available for purchased solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed by December 31, 2022. Property tax exemption on the added home value from the solar equipment. (Tax exemption value varies by VA county, city, or town.)

Is it worth getting solar in Virginia? ›

Are solar panels in Virginia worth it? Solar panels are often a worthwhile investment for Virginians looking to lower their energy bills and power their homes with clean energy. Virginia also receives more sunshine than many other states.

Will Virginia cover the cost of solar panels? ›

Virginia does not have a state solar tax credit as some other states do. However, the federal solar tax credit is available to all homeowners throughout Virginia. The ITC provides a tax credit in the amount of 30% of your total cost of going solar.

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