MOUNT JACKSON — The Town Council must adopt changes to a local zoning rule before work on a solar-power facility at a Shenandoah County public school can move forward.

The Planning Commission held a public hearing Monday on a proposed ordinance to amend the zoning regulations in the town code pertaining to uses in the R-2 district. If adopted, the town code would allow schools to install small-scale solar energy facilities as an accessory use with an approved special-use permit. The town code would require a separate special-use permit for small-scale solar energy facilities that must comply with the standards listed in the zoning regulations.

The ordinance would take effect Jan. 10 if adopted.

No one spoke at the public hearing. Commissioners voted to send the proposed changes to the Town Council with a recommendation that its members adopt the ordinance. Commission Chairman Larry Ambrose, Vice Chairwoman Anita Miller and members Dennis Andrick, Emily Burner and Jim Hines attended the meeting and voted on the matter.

Town Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance prior to its regular meeting Tuesday.

Shenandoah County School Board members and division administrators agreed in July to enter into a 30-year contract with Sun Tribe Solar, an alternative energy firm based in Charlottesville. The company plans to install and maintain a solar array of 700 solar panels or modules on the Triplett Tech campus at no upfront cost to the school system.

The company would bill the division 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour for using solar power generated by the facility. Dominion Energy charges the division 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. The division can expect to save roughly $475,000 by the end of the 30 years.

Sun Tribe Solar representative Tony Stephan appeared at the commission meeting. The company has completed construction on similar projects in other school divisions in the state.

Town Manager Neil Showalter explained to the commission that the zoning regulations define “small-scale” as covering less than two acres and the proposed solar-energy facility taking up 1 to 1 1/2 acres. The new regulations would also require that a solar-energy facility serve only as an accessory use to a school.

“The term accessory is important because the use has to be incidental to the primary use, in this case the school facility,” Showalter told the commission members.

If Town Council adopts the zoning ordinance changes, Sun Tribe Solar would need to apply for a special-use permit to build the facility at Triplett Tech.

Town staff has been advised that the solar-energy facility is expected to provide most, if not all of the school’s electric power needs, Showalter said. There may be some additional energy available to sell back to the electricity provider but that is not the primary intent of the project, Showalter added.

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