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Northumberland seeks zoning provisions for electrical substations and solar farms

by Madison White Franks

HEATHSVILLE—The Northumberland planning commission on August 17 opened discussions regarding rules and regulations for electrical substations and solar farms.

“We need to look at finding a cubby hole for electric power substations in our zoning ordinance because we have none and our neighboring counties have been getting solar farm applications. Supervisor Tomlin thought we should look at how we want to take care of those,” said county planner Stuart McKenzie.

The primary discussion for the night would focus on electrical substations, McKenzie said.

An application was submitted by Northern Neck Electric Cooperative for a proposed substation at Avalon and Snyder’s Mill roads. The parcel is zoned agricultural. Action is forthcoming on the application.

The zoning ordinance addresses water and sewer utilities among land uses, said McKenzie. The county could add electrical substations to that category, or create another.

Commission member W.H. Shirley said all the electrical substations in the county are on property that is zoned agricultural.

Commission member Patrick O’Brien said the county wants accessible power.

“The idea of a public utility is being a common carrier. It’s providing service to the general public,” said O’Brien.

“It’s possible to have some discussion and some concern with a substation built in a residential area because it is built above ground. The difference with wells and sewer, the treatment facility is somewhere else with underground pipes,” said Shirley.

“Could you word it so the substation cannot be placed across a residential district?” asked O’Brien.

“If you want control over it, you could put conditions on everything,” said McKenzie. “With conditional use, we could add language that people put a vegetative border around it so that the condition would give you a little bit of control of how it looks.”

Shirley requested the commission have one more meeting to discuss electrical substations and hold a public hearing in October.

“The public wants consistent and stable electricity just as much as they want water and sewer, and right now water and sewer can go anywhere because it’s a permitted use in the county,” said planning commission member Heidi Wilkins.

Transitioning into a brief discussion about solar farms, Wilkins said solar is typically private at this point.

Northumberland allows solar panels mounted on houses by right, but that is small scale, said McKenzie.

Zoning administrator Phillip Marston added that solar panels can also be mounted on the ground.

Chairman A.C. Fisher previously requested members become more familiar with the county code so at the end of the meeting, they reviewed ordinances addressing noise and the county’s beaches and piers.

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
From the Rappahannock Record news team

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