New solar projects face old restrictions
The proposed solar array on First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville promised an energy savings of $11,000 per year. The Church was poised to take advantage of new federal tax credits offered by the Inflation Reduction Act. They rallied their congregation and secured a private donation to support the project. Then they hit a roadblock — the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review (BAR).
Located in a historical architectural district, the Church’s plans to replace some of the original slate roof tiles with solar panels violate code last updated 20 years ago. Things have changed in the two decades since the code’s adoption, including an escalating climate crisis and the City’s own commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Now it’s up to Charlottesville’s City Council to determine whether or not to override the BAR rejection. That might be a fine solution if this were an isolated case. The reality is that solar projects routinely confront out-of-date local code restrictions, which derail projects and hinder opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money.
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Solar’s local problem isn’t restricted to Central Virginia. A quick search will deliver scores of news stories of solar projects being denied by local commissions and decision-makers. Most local codes haven’t been updated for more than a decade. During this time, solar technology has advanced as a cost-effective and visually appealing solution for rising energy costs and a growing climate crisis.
Virginia passed the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. The US Congress passed major climate legislation with the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. It’s time for local governments to get on board. Charlottesville should lead the way by updating its codes and removing needless and outdated barriers to rooftop solar and other net-zero-enabling technologies. The climate can’t wait, and places like First United Methodist shouldn’t have to either.
Susan Kruse, Executive Director, Community Climate Collaborative
Chair, Virginia Clean Energy Advisory Board