Protecting Virginia’s Historic Landscapes While Meeting State’s Clean Energy Goals
The American Battlefield Trust's 2020 report, "Siting Solar in Virginia: Protecting Virginia's Historic Landscape While Meeting the State's Clean Energy Goals."
Virginia has committed to transitioning to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050, actively incentivizing the expansion of solar energy throughout the Commonwealth — even as the state continues to steward one of the nation’s most significant concentrations of historic and cultural resources, including battlefields. Fortunately, utility-scale solar energy development and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive goals. Conflict tends to arise when developers disregard the historic and cultural landscapes on or near potential solar sites. Early planning by developers to prevent or minimize adverse effects to these landscapes is the first step to avoiding conflict and forging consensus.
To chart a context-sensitive path forward that reduces risk of conflict, the American Battlefield Trust, Preservation Virginia and Cultural Heritage Partners have released a report analyzing a range of historic preservation and cultural heritage concerns commonly encountered by solar energy developers building on an industrial scale in Virginia. Although rural land provides one of the least expensive places to construct utility-scale solar facilities, one of the most contentious issues in energy development today is the visual effect of these facilities on historic properties. An example is the visual intrusion caused by large solar panels on historic viewsheds, landscapes, and sites, which affects the way people experience and connect with these resources.
“Lessons Learned” from the report will promote responsible, consensus-based approaches and outcomes:
Locating solar facilities on greyfield or brownfield land — or co-locating with existing uses, such as on rooftops or parking lots — provides the best opportunity for avoidingconflicts over land use and requires no additional land development.
Early planning and consultation to avoid harm to historic resources and rural areas increase developers’ permitting success.
Selecting solar development sites in localities with clear rules and guidelines in place facilitates the advancement of appropriate and mutually agreeable projects.
Proactively engaging with the State Historic Preservation Office and preservation advocates leads to creative mitigation solutions where adverse effects cannot be avoided.
Following best practices and preservation law helps ensure that utility-scale solar energy facilities develop in a contextsensitive manner. Virginia is well-positioned to pursue its solar energy commitments and needs while balancing the public’s interest in protecting the storied resources for which the state is internationally known.
With costs decreasing, renewable energy — such as solar and wind energy — is growing rapidly across the United States. To bolster this movement toward renewable energy, state and local governments are passing legislation to encourage renewable power facilities and set timelines for phasing out fossil fuel production.
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