NATURE NOTES -   Number 63     Solar Farms          Feb 28, 2023


At this point nearly everyone, young scouts included, are aware of the need to move away from fossil fuels and rely more on renewable energy sources in order to slow down the impact of climate change.  Depending on where you live you might be seeing more and more of these sources being developed.  Wind turbines have not caught on in Virginia yet, but in other areas they are common sights, such as the mid-west.  We often hear of concerns about the possible impact of wind turbines on bats, eagles and other birds.  Other issues, such as noise and visibility have also arisen.  We won’t pursue these today.  We do, however, see more and more solar panels being installed, either on a small scale or in a more industrial way.  These are usually discussed in positive ways, such as how much energy can be produced, and how that reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed, and how that is a good thing.  Seldom do you hear about any possible negative effects of solar panels.  So today let’s look at:

Our Current topic:  Consequences of solar farms

First, don’t interpret any of this as meaning I am against solar farms.  I simply want to bring to your and your scout’s attention that there are some things that need to be considered in developing solar farms that most people don’t realize.  Let’s start with their size.  Currently, in Charlotte County, our neighbor to the east, one of the largest solar farms in the country has been approved for construction, covering 21,000 acres.  In the same county, three other approved projects bring the total acreage covered by solar farms to over 26,000 acres, or 8.5% of the county’s land.  As a result of this, the County Board of Supervisors has asked the county planning commission to develop some policy and restrictions on future approval of solar farms.  Their main concern is the impact on the environment.  Several other counties, including Franklin County and Montgomery County are also addressing this issue.  In recent meetings in Henry and Pittsylvania Counties, citizens have expressed concern over an 1100-acre solar farm planned for their area.  The developer’s spokesperson said “There are varying opinions about whether this is good for the environment” (Roanoke Times, Feb 20, 2023).  The Virginia General Assembly has also recognized this need in a recent new law concerning solar farms.  It applies if the project “would disturb more than 10 acres of prime agriculture soils or 50 acres of contiguous forest lands…”  As noted above, solar farms can occupy a lot more than that.  So why the concerns?  There are a number of things, but let’s keep it in the “nature” area.  In order to construct a solar farm, land has to be changed.  Soil is disturbed, compacted, and perhaps eroded.  Drainage may be affected as forests are removed, possibly impacting watersheds.  Land clearing may impact shade benefits on streams and fish habitat.  Wildlife habitat may be destroyed or modified, especially if forests, or fields of wildflowers, are eliminated to create the farm.  Removing or reducing grasses may impact food chains that impact a number of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, etc.  Wildlife movement corridors may be changed as well. And we also have to remember that trees and the forest are a valuable way to store carbon, and removing them and not replacing them is not in line with carbon reduction. The new state law requires the state Department of Environmental Quality review proposed solar farm sites for the environmental impact, and the Department of Wildlife Resources is already developing ways to minimize the impacts on wildlife habitat.  So the consequences of these solar farms is recognized and being considered by state agencies.  This adds to the work load of these agencies, and more resources will be needed to carry out this work.  You might view this as opportunities for future careers for your scouts, or as a need for more taxes to support environmental compliance.  Regardless, there are consequences here.  As planning and research move forward, we will discover more consequences and more localities that will step back and question just how much of their forest and farm land do they want to lose to solar farms.  How much “locally grown” farm production will be lost?  Will the trees sacrificed be replaced? Will we lose out rural appeal?  What is the impact on property value if a solar farm moves in next door?  There are many things to consider.


Like I said above, all of this creates more opportunities for scouts to find future careers in some type of nature research or environmental regulation.  But in the short run it is an opportunity for adults to teach younger people about how nature, the environment, society, government and economics are all connected in a complex web.  If you live in an area where you can see solar farms going up, talk to your scouts about it. They will know all about the benefits of replacing fossil fuels, but I’ll bet they have not considered the nature issues discussed above. Plant that seed of thought in their brain.  It might just serve them well in the years ahead.

A lot of the information for this NN note was taken from an article in the August 25, 2022 edition of the on-line newspaper, The Cardinal.

As always, your comments are welcome at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bob Garst