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OPINION – Planning Commission’s reasoning is laughable

There are plenty of arguments to be made for or against solar projects, but Lunenburg County’s Planning Commission used none of those against the proposed Red Brick Solar project. Instead, they came up with a laughable assertion that the project “does little for economic development.”

This despite the fact that the Red Brick Solar company says its project will result in $197,000 in additional tax revenues per year and add $12.1 million in cumulative county revenue over the project’s 40-year life span.

I’m not quite sure how Planning Director Glenn Millican, Jr. and the other members of the Planning Commission define economic development, but I would think taking almost 1,000 acres of land producing only a base amount of tax revenue and adding a  $12 million gain in county revenue would meet most people’s definition. If it isn’t economic development then fine, the money can still be used to improve the school system, provide additional county services, or at least reduce the tax rate.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t see companies or industries lining up to make this 1,000 acres more valuable. In a county without a McDonald’s, it would seem a solar farm would be a positive option for an area that is not a prime target for commercial development at any point in the near future.

“Electrical power is a fungible commodity, not necessarily a catalyst for development,” the response from the Planning Commission said.

That is true. But we have been tasked as a nation to stop blacking out the sun with coal-burning power plants. Solar is a great alternative to burning fossil fuels and if this 1,000 acres in Lunenburg County can be used to help provide clean energy that would be a good thing.

Planning Commissions across the country hear basically the same thing from property owners about almost every issue that come before them – “not in my backyard.” Now, it seems the Lunenburg County Planning Commission is using that same, old, tired argument against Red Brick Solar.

If the Planning Commission doesn’t want a 1,000-acre solar farm in Lunenburg County, if they want to pass up $197,000 in additional tax revenue per year and send the solar farm projects to Charlotte County then they should just be honest and say that. But to say the project provides little in the way of economic development when it is likely the biggest revenue-producing project for the county to come before the commission in years is just disingenuous.

Economic development for local governments is no longer about attracting a Toyota plant, a Target store or a small industrial plant. Those opportunities are extremely rare these days. Today, economic development is about boosting the tax base and then using that additional revenue to provide better schools, services etc. to attract more people and more subsequently more development to the area. This solar project begins that process.

The Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors should take a close look at the Planning Commission’s flawed reasoning and excuses for not approving this project before they consider the issue at its May meeting.