After a year of work by a board-appointed environment committee, the Board of Supervisors on July 27 approved a new county environment and energy action plan..
The large-scale plan aims to make Loudoun greener and more energy efficient. Priorities include ongoing work to pursue new options such as pooling community options, which would allow the county to purchase power directly from generators rather than utilities; New zoning to allow the use of solar farms and solar panels as accessories; research into waste reuse techniques, such as harvesting combustible gases from landfill in the county; And continuous work to update the province’s energy strategy.
Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) said solar farms should not be allowed on actual farmland, or in the rural area.
“I think it would be huge damage, unless it’s done incredibly strategically, and damage our rural economy,” he said.
And there’s a new possibility – a green bank, a publicly funded financial institution that finances clean energy projects, offers, extended loan times, reduced rates, and access to credit for projects that may have trouble finding a lender. Loudoun will be among the first Virginia counties to establish a green bank, with some other Northern Virginia counties now considering the concept. Montgomery County, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., have already prepared it.
The conservation also aims to conserve its remaining natural resources. This ranges from cleaning requirements for engineering studies in floodplains, which can be prohibitively expensive, to better watershed management planning. Stewards at the Environmental Summit also got a new perspective on tree protection, such as how requirements to maintain some tree cover in development processes could provide inadequate protection for those small groups of trees, allowing them to die out anyway.
Building in part from the emerging linear park and trail system, the county will begin research into the creation of wildlife corridors, specifically focused on providing safe routes for wildlife to cross roads. Loudoun County has the seventh-highest rate of vehicle-to-animal collisions in the country, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The county also plans to develop a central hub for public access to county information about environmental conditions and practices.
There is also a social justice angle for action plans. This includes taking the first steps in assessing societal risks and environmental impacts with a focus on environmental justice, and in conversation with the new state’s Office of Environmental Justice. Likewise, the plan is directed towards developing a framework to ensure an equitable distribution of costs and benefits and access to affordable energy, while meeting the needs of the people most affected by the energy system.
Stewards hope to spark more public participation in this environmental work, both through leadership by example with greener government, and through new Environmental Excellence Awards planned for April 2023, and the annual Public Forum on Environment and Energy, with the first being planned in May 2023.
In its early stages, which largely include planning and feasibility studies, county employees reported that the cost of the new plan could be absorbed into their existing budgets. However, its more ambitious goals will mean that future boards of supervisors have decisions to make when writing the district’s annual budget.
County Chief Phyllis J. Randall (generally Democrat) All of these ideas are great – “And if we had a flow of money, we wouldn’t have this, we could do it tomorrow.” But she noted that supervisors are looking forward to a difficult budget year.
She also said there may be more the county can do without spending money, for example on the regulatory front.
“I think there is a lot we can do even in the short term. I think construction and development is going to be a section that we need to talk about more, as I’ve talked before about things like native species and whether or not we should ask for them when development happens.” Sometimes developers may leave a plant because of its shape, and it may not be the right plant for the area because it’s not native. I think there are some things that might not cost a cent, but maybe we should consider doing them anyway.”
“This is very important to our nation, and to everyone, and I am very pleased that we, as a local body, are taking the steps we can to help our environment and our community,” said Superintendent Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run).
Supervisors approved the new 8-0-1 action plan, with Kirchner absent from the vote.
For more information on Loudoun’s environmental efforts and the work of the Environment Agency, visit loudoun.gov/environment.