Readers of the News Virginian benefit from its willingness to have a variety of commentators. Proverbs’ “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” gives ancient assent to debate. It is with this in mind, I offer a different perspective to fellow columnist Morgan Liddick’s support of the Board of Supervisors turning their back on the agricultural community’s request to re-tool their farms from food production to energy supply.

At one time Supervisors cared about farm incomes. They (we) wanted our farmers to prosper. So support came through land use taxation, ordinances allowing greater opportunities for agriculture whether from tourism, farm to market sales, or greater support for non-agriculture businesses locating on farms.

The realization that farming is hard work, revenues are uncertain, and rising generations are choosing other careers, made the intent to help a priority. How sad this Board of Supervisors is choosing now to deny our farm community a basic right enjoyed by every other company in our nation: the freedom to change product lines without government’s intrusion.

Liddick agrees in noting “the nature and character” of our community is somehow enhanced by limiting the financial options available to farm families. While this alone is distasteful; has he, and the public, fully grasped the Supervisors’ alternative?

Rather than having a 1,000 acres of solar collectors, passively creating farm income and additional taxes during its 20-25 year life cycle, the Board wants to flush $7 million down a sewer line extension through much of the same land. The goal is hundreds of new home sites available in a “build it and they will come” scenario as envisioned by lame-duck Supervisor Carolyn Bragg. But will they?

Whether by Board initiatives or happenstance, the County has seen a slowing of growth. The consequences result in a lessening of need for building sites beyond what already exists. The Comprehensive Plan foresaw Augusta’s 2010 population increasing to 80,655 in 2020. It is not to be. The expectation is now 75,630. The expected new residents were pegged at 691 annually but has instead registered at 188 per year from 2010 through 2018.

This is good news for those of us who want to keep Augusta County development in check. It is not good for homebuilders as we have gone from a need of 800 new houses annually to an average of about 250. But it is folly to think a sewer line will bring back a market that fundamentally lacks demand. The smartest growth, and best utilization of what we already have, will occur when private enterprise can freely and fairly compete.

As if the Board’s betrayal of the farm community was not enough; Mr. Liddick chose to add name calling by characterizing our Stuart Draft neighbors as some sort of elitists. What a hoot! Portraying calloused hand, Carhartt wearing, hard working men and women as some sort of privileged, “well-connected” class is as laughable as it is wrong. And of course the proof of the mischaracterization lies in what is plainly observable: they were denied.

Liddick, without any discernible, objective support, further declares the majority of the public as opposed to the solar farms. How did he determine that? Nearly 100 neighbors signed a petition in support of the project. A majority of the Planning Commission, who are long time advocates for faithful adherence to the Comprehensive Plan, supported this use of farm land to produce electricity. If many of the solar farm neighbors, and the Planning Commission, support the opportunity; that’s a pretty good indicator that those who know the land, and the County’s ordinances, support the farmers.

For some there is a negativity attached to wind and solar energy as somehow unworkable or insufficient. One has to wonder if a bias for fossil fuels is at the heart of Morgan’s opposition to this project. In dismissing those supporting solar energy as part of the “political class” because of “gushing pro-solar” commentary there is exposure of thought that seems more grumpy than enlightened.

What’s not to gush about? The supply is essentially unending, it is free of cost and can’t be hoarded. It is non-polluting and will not explode in transit. Before Amazon, God was already making home delivery of the gift of energy, we just didn’t know how to accept it.

I am relieved there is an energy future for my great grandchildren. Just sorry that our farmers are being blocked by their own elected people from being able to participate in this better tomorrow. Go figure.

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Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Sundays.

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