solar sprawl

Top 10 stories of 2018 – No. 7: Board approves first solar farm in Culpeper County

Renewable Energy

In an age of renewable energy, Culpeper got on the bandwagon in 2018 with its approval of the first large-scale solar project near Stevensburg. At its meeting in October, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the initiative of NextEra, which bills itself as the world’s largest generator of renewable energy. A small portion of the project is slated to traverse land owned by Board Chairman Bill Chase, who did not vote on it.

The split decision came after three hours of public comment from an engaged community of landowners who will financially benefit from the estimated 40-year project, people supportive of alternative energy and frustrated neighbors emotionally vested in preserving the rural landscape where the solar panels will be placed, following a two-mile corridor of the Dominion Power transmission line.

The project will generate an estimated $1.2 million in annual lease payments to five landowners, including Chase, over the solar farm’s anticipated 40-year life, according to the applicant. Originally slated for 1,000 acres, the project has since been scaled back to about 700 acres to include setbacks agreed upon by the board, said project manager Shanelle Wilson in a recent email to the Star-Exponent.

NextEra is actively marketing the project to customers seeking renewable energy, she said, noting there is no firm timeline yet for the start of construction because that will be contingent upon when the future customer wants the power delivered.

While many landowners expressed support for the project for the financial benefit to them, several neighbors in the pastoral area near various historic sites adamantly fought the solar farm.

On Oct. 31, those landowners filed suit against the county and the solar company, claiming the project will ruin their views and decrease property values. The suit asks the circuit court to reverse the decision that approved the project.

In September, the board of supervisors rejected an application from Virginia Solar to build a smaller project on 178 acres of farmland between Stevensburg and Brandy Station after the planning commission recommended denial of the use permit because it felt it was the wrong place for it.

At its first meeting of 2019, on Jan. 2, the Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal that would limit solar projects county-wide to a total of 2,400 acres or 240 megawatts of production, enough to power the current population of Culpeper County.

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