The Commonwealth is moving to cleaner, home-grown, lower-cost forms of energy production like solar energy and Virginians have questions. For decades, our energy portfolio has consisted of a combination of coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. These energy sources have served us well. Just as we’ve moved from landlines to cell phones and from Blockbuster to Netflix, our energy portfolio will adjust to the market and more sophisticated technologies. Certain renewable energies are now the lowest cost form of power generation and the market will lead us toward these energy sources. We all agree that the electricity that powers our homes and businesses is fundamental, but that we must keep a close eye on safety and the environment. In Virginia, solar energy development is a safe and effective way to power our communities while protecting our land, air and water.
Solar, or photovoltaic panels, are a tried and tested technology that we have used for many decades. Solar panels have allowed the exploration of other planets with the Mars Rover and have powered the International Space Station for over 20 years. Scientists trust solar panels to power these billion dollar projects in outer space just as communities trust solar to power their homes and businesses across the country.
In simple terms, there are three ingredients for a solar project: Metal framing, tempered glass, and photovoltaic cells secured between the sheets of glass. Metal posts, typically aluminium, are sunk a few feet into the ground to hold up an array. Panels are then snapped into metal frames between posts and pointed towards the sun. Like any project, many counties are right to require stormwater plans, revegetation plans, and responsible grading to limit runoff during and after construction. Once the panels are installed and native grasses are planted beneath, the soil sits untouched and is allowed to return to its natural state. The soil does not receive pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, or other treatments — it is allowed to revegetate at its own natural pace.
Unfortunately, misinformation has pervaded the discussion, and talk of toxic chemicals leaking into the soil is a scare tactic clean energy opponents often employ. Solar opponents will misinterpret and twist any study or experiment they can get their hands on, so people should look for scientific consensus over the findings of one individual study. The US Energy Information Administration has endless resources summarizing 30+ years of research into the human and environmental safety of solar technologies.
Researchers just down the road at Virginia Tech authored a study looking into American-made solar panels containing Cadmium Telluride (CdTe). The VT researchers studied soil and water samples near solar projects in normal operation as well as projects that had been damaged by hurricanes and even tornadoes. Even soil samples taken from beneath panels damaged in a tornado passed the EPA’s Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) tests: “Just as it is improper to assume water can burn because hydrogen burns, it is invalid to treat CdTe as if it were as toxic as Cd.” The semiconductors used in panels are thinner than a single red blood cell and are securely fastened between sheets of glass.
Solar skeptics have little grounds for concern about the materials in solar panels. The opponents to solar development ignore the fact that these same materials are found in every cell phone, in rusty cars sitting in the elements, and are by-products of other electricity generation like coal. Solar farm owners and landowners have a vested interest in keeping panels operational and keeping the environment clean, leaving the ground better than they found it. In fact, many view solar farms as land conservation tools–they are certainly less permanent and lower impact than any other form of development. Solar projects are new to many localities across Virginia, but the science is conclusive: responsible solar development is a win for clean air, clean water, landowners, neighbors, and communities.
This month, Conservatives for Clean Energy — VA conducted and released a poll focussed on Virginians’ opinions on clean energy development across the Commonwealth. The results are eye opening: folks of all ideologies, ages, and folks from every region of the state identified key aspects of energy development that they support. Not surprisingly, individual property rights, the notion that YOU have the right to use YOUR land however YOU please, won the day. Property rights are sacred and core to the American dream–our Founders made their support for property rights explicit during the founding of our country. Protecting these rights are fundamental to conservative leadership in Virginia, and our Land & Liberty Coalition is proud to stand up for like minded Conservatives.
Virginian’s support the right of landowners to build solar projects by a 90% to 10% margin.
Virginians recognize that solar development is a safe, gentle use of land that is compatible with countless types of neighbors. Solar projects do not pollute, smell, make noise, or require intensive upkeep. They sit quietly in sunlight and power our homes and businesses. Whereas only 22% of people support a housing development being built in their locality and even fewer, 11% support an industrial use, a clear majority of Virginia (60%) support a solar project being built nearby.
An overwhelming 61% to 21% majority agree in an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that lowers dependence on fossil fuels over time.
An “all-of-the-above” strategy at the national level allowed the Trump Administration to achieve energy independence from foreign producers. Employed at the state level, the strategy can ensure clean air, clean water, and economic development in rural Virginia. To achieve this goal, 55% of Virginians support putting more emphasis on solar energy development, compared to 21% who would like to see less.
When Virginian’s know that solar projects can help provide income to farmers as well as revenue for schools, they are more likely to support solar by 62% to 11% margin.
Like energy development in fuel-rich states across the country, local production of energy powers schools and community services like first responders. Tax revenues from solar developments provide local governments with the flexibility to improve local infrastructure while also providing the option to lower taxes for all residents. The message is clear: Virginians are ready for clean energy development and the benefits it brings.
Take a closer look at the survey results below.
August 8, 2021, The Roanoke Times
Like countless towns and cities across this country, Danville, Virginia has seen times of boom and bust.
In its heyday, the tobacco and textile industry made Danville one of the richest places in the Piedmont area.
Once home of textile giant Dan River Fabrics and the “World’s Best Tobacco Market,” in the early 2000s Danville’s two largest economic drivers: textile and tobacco were nearly extinct.
Danville was a mill town that no longer had a mill and tobacco town that no longer had a tobacco market.
But today, Danville’s leaders aren’t reminiscing about the glory days. They’re working to make Danville a vibrant city that people want to live, work and play.
One of those leaders is J. Lee Vogler. Elected to city council in 2012, Vogler became the youngest person ever elected at age 24. In 2018 Vogler was elected to a two-year term as Danville’s vice mayor by his fellow council members.
A member of the Conservatives for Clean Energy – VA Advisory Board, Vogler understands the important role clean energy plays in Danville’s economic future. “Clean energy means economic development. More than 43 Virginia based companies are committed to powering their operations with 100% renewable energy, and 21 of Virginia’s 50 largest employers have set targets to procure more clean energy,” said Vogler. “Major companies like Microsoft and Amazon are looking at communities that have renewable energy in their portfolio.”
That’s one reason Danville’s leaders have embraced renewable energy. Danville’s city council oversees Danville Utilities, the largest municipal electric utility in Virginia, serving Danville and surrounding areas. In just the past three years, three utility-scale solar projects came online in Danville and a fourth is scheduled to be completed this year.
“We repurposed a golf course that wasn’t being used anymore, converting it to a solar farm,” said Vogler. “We’re saving millions in transmission charges because we’re creating our own electricity locally instead of buying it from utilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania and transmitting it through the grid.”
Under Vogler’s leadership, a remarkable 24% of Danville’s electricity is generated from renewable sources, mostly solar and hydro, compared with 6.4% for Virginia. Danville’s investment in solar energy shows how a rural community can position itself in a more competitive posture for economic development.
While clean energy is important to attracting business, quality of life issues are also important. “You can’t attract a major company if your city is not a place where they think their employees want to live and work,” Vogler said.
In 2013, city leaders focused on repurposing its “River District,” consisting of the traditional central business district and tobacco warehouse district along the banks of the Dan River. The new amenities featured the JTI Fountain and Main Street Plaza, which quickly became one of Danville’s favorite public gathering spaces. A pedestrian bridge connects walking trails on the north and south side of the Dan River.
“Eight years ago, there were about 200 people living in our downtown River District. Now about 2,300 empty nesters and young people are living downtown and growing,” said Vogler. Not far up Main Street, an influx of younger families, married couples, and singles are buying up single family homes. Many of these buyers have left unaffordable big cities and relocated to Danville, lured by home prices that start at around $100,000. Recently, Danville was ranked as the third most popular small city to move to in America, by the travel website MoveBuddha.com.
Vogler also recognized that depending on a couple industries is not a stable path to prosperity. “We’re creating a diversified economy through a number of paths, including advanced manufacturing in a partnership between Danville Community College, our public schools, and the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research. That has helped us attract global companies like Kyocera SGS, Overfinch, and Unison, just in the past year.”
It’s this comprehensive approach that earned Danville the 2020 All-American City award by the National Civic League; one of only 10 communities in the nation to receive this award.
Vogler acknowledges that Danville’s revival is in its early stages, but the city’s investments in clean energy infrastructure, education and urban renewal are paying off. “We’ve laid the foundation for Danville’s future. Do we still have challenges? Absolutely. But I believe the progress we’ve seen in the past decade will pay dividends in Danville for decades to come.”
Conservatives for Clean Energy-VA (CCE-VA) announced the formation of the Land and Liberty Coalition in Virginia, tapping Skyler Zunk to lead the effort. The Land and Liberty Coalition (L&LC) is a state-based group of local citizens who support renewable energy developments. The coalition consists of farmers, land owners, and key stakeholders who are concerned about protecting their private property rights, developing their communities, and being good stewards of the land. L&LC empowers individuals and communities to take control of their energy future by providing objective, relevant information and helping citizens organize as effective advocates.
A lifelong Virginian, Skyler will work to shepherd clean energy innovation across the Commonwealth. “Skyler brings the skill and localized experience Virginia needs to reach the next level of energy development,” said CCE-VA Director Ron Butler. “The Land & Liberty Coalition will focus on preserving individual freedom and property rights across Virginia.”
Most recently, Skyler served as Director of Operations on Delegate Kirk Cox’s bid for Governor. Delegate Cox said, “Skyler is an excellent choice to lead the Land and Liberty Coalition in Virginia. I know Skyler appreciates the natural beauty and complexity of our Commonwealth, and he will be an effective advocate for property rights and renewable energy.”
Previously, Skyler was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s Special Assistant. At the Department of the Interior, Skyler witnessed large-scale energy projects in all phases of development on public land from the Hoover Dam to solar projects in the Mojave Desert to oil flats in south Florida. In this role, he saw first hand how an all-of-the-above energy strategy led the United States to energy independence, and clean energy development in Virginia will make the Commonwealth an energy leader in the Southeast.
Doug Domenech, a former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources under Governor Bob McDonnell and a former Interior Assistant Secretary in the Trump Administration applauded Skyler’s selection: “Zunk is an excellent, hard-working addition to the team. I know the Secretary relied on him. Virginians want affordable and reliable energy produced in an environmentally responsible way.”
“During Skyler’s time as a student at Washington and Lee University, he volunteered for countless conservative causes to make our Commonwealth a better place to live, work, and raise a family,” said Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-Rockbridge), “I know he will bring the same level of dedication to this conservative effort to bring responsible and effective energy development in the Valley.”
Skyler’s volunteer efforts placed him in leadership roles within the College Republicans and on the 6th Congressional District Republican Committee. An Eagle Scout, Skyler enjoys the outdoors by hiking, kayaking, and hunting.
We are successfully are fighting back
By Ron Butler
July 15th, 2021
Across Virginia there is a battle taking place between landowners and government officials. I’m not talking about government overreach we see from liberals at the federal or state level. This is coming from a faction of so-called conservatives in government at the local level. While conservatives typically are on the side of Constitutional rights, some are turning their backs on these fundamental principles by passing ordinances blocking landowners from creating solar or wind farms to generate electricity.
While it is appropriate for counties and cities to have reasonable ordinances that protect the common good of the community, they also must respect the freedom and rights of the individual, including property rights.
This week the Augusta County Planning Commission voted on a proposal that would have put severe restrictions on solar farms, even areas zone for future industrial uses. Conservatives for Clean Energy – Virginia sent letters to the planning commission urging them to oppose these restrictions. In a win for the Constitutional rights of property owners the planning commission voted 5-1 not to adopt this anti-solar, anti-property rights legislation.
Covering the Augusta meeting the News Virginian wrote, “Donna Miller, who together with her brother works a 700-acre farm in Grottoes, said farming is hard work and financially stressful. She and her brother are getting older and want to retire. With no immediate family member wanting to take over the farm operations, solar presents a viable alternative that allows them to retire and keep the land in the family.”
A hundred miles south in Pittsylvania County local leaders like Supervisor Ben Farmer have also stood up and defended the rights of property owners who want to use their land for solar. In the Star-Tribune Farmer said, “It helps everyone out. We collect more taxes compared to the land-use. I voted for this, and I still believe today that it is the right of a property owner to do what they want with their land. If something is built legally and per code, every property owner has the right to do so. That’s how I felt when I voted and I feel that same way today.”
The importance of private property rights is clear to anyone who studies the American founding documents. In the minds of the Framers, property rights were indispensable to the success of America and a fundamental role of government was to protect these property rights of individuals.
Founding father John Adams said of private property rights, “Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.” Likewise Virginian James Madison wrote in The Federalist, that government is instituted no less for the protection of property than people or individuals.
Conservatives for Clean Energy – Virginia serves as a voice for the many conservatives who want to protect their property rights while expanding the availability of clean energy sources in Virginia.