From the Editor’s Desk: You need to lay a strong foundation

Published 6:54 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

You don’t run before you can walk. You don’t deliver a speech in German without first learning the language. Unless you’re the Carolina Panthers, you don’t play a game without a strategy to win. And along the same lines, before approving solar facilities, it only makes sense to first adopt a policy on what’s allowed. 

That’s why I find myself agreeing with the Buckingham County Planning Commission, who refused to move forward with the latest solar project that came before them on Monday, Nov. 27. No, for all accounts, there was nothing wrong with the project itself, except timing. The county currently has no policy in place in regards to how many facilities can operate, how large they can be or where they can go in Buckingham. Instead, facility owners come up and get a thumbs up or a thumbs down on a case by case basis. To me, that seems a little ridiculous for both sides. 

This is something every county and town could take note of. I understand that solar projects seem like fantastic money makers and at a time where next year’s budget discussions are starting, every dollar helps. But it doesn’t help anyone If all you do is invite confusion. Going back to that Nov. 27 Buckingham meeting, the solar project’s owner raised a valid point. He had no problem following rules. Tell him what’s allowed, he said, and he’ll build a project to meet those specifications. But what he refused to do is follow a set of rules arbitrarily chosen for this project, rules other solar projects wouldn’t have to follow. And without something set in stone, without a policy the county can point to, that’s exactly what he would be asked to do. Does anyone truly believe this is a good way to attract companies in? Business owners want stability. They want logical, simple answers as to what’s required in order to build a project here. And if they can’t get that, it’s no problem. They won’t wait. They won’t keep hanging around for months until they get answers. They’ll pack up and find somewhere else, a place where the requirements make sense. 

Email newsletter signup

But beyond just the chaotic nature of it, there’s also the legal issues to consider. Let’s say a project gets through the planning commission and then is passed by Buckingham supervisors. It succeeds and there are zero problems. That is, until another company comes in and doesn’t have to follow any of the same guidelines. What legal decisions will company No. 1 have to make, what will the county or town have to give up, in order to make everyone happy?  

Yes, I know that we all want things to happen immediately. If a company comes knocking with a proposal, we don’t want to give them time to reconsider, so the concept gets pushed through quick. But is that what’s best for the county long-term? Is that the best use for the land? How much money is being left on the table in a rush to get something pushed through? 

I know I keep referring to Buckingham, but this goes for every county and town in this area. Before rushing into a decision, be it about solar or any other type of policy, we need to have a plan in place for how to handle the positives, the negatives and everything in between. Otherwise, we’re just setting ourselves up for trouble down the road, all of it self-inflicted.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com.