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Utility-Scale Solar in Virginia: An Analysis of Land Use and Development Trends

While solar facilities are a viable source of clean energy with many economic opportunities available to developers, landowners, and local communities, their recent deployment has led to a growing recognition of potential land use conflicts. The declining technology costs, tax breaks, financial incentives, and affordability of rural lands have been the main drivers of the recent development of solar facilities across Virginia. However, as these facilities grow larger and more prevalent, they will become an increasingly important component of local land use patterns in many parts of rural Virginia. Accordingly, proper land use planning serves a critical role in ensuring that Virginia successfully meets future clean energy goals while also promoting sustainable and efficient land use practices. Analyzing the ongoing land use impacts of utility-scale solar development, establishing a process for tracking future land use patterns, and providing guidance to consider the best land use practices is the primary purpose of this plan. The goal of this plan is not to undermine the opportunity and potential of solar energy. Instead, this plan seeks to inform solar energy development policies through a land use planning perspective to promote the sustainable development of solar facilities. The recommendations of this plan are intended for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and are informed by the results of this research. However, the findings and recommendations for this plan are also informative and useful for a variety of stakeholders. The sustainable development of solar energy facilities in Virginia will ultimately be a collaborative process and the following recommendations are intended to complement the ongoing work of numerous stakeholders across the state.