Citizens for Responsible Solar, a group of Culpeper residents, asked the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors this week to pause the county’s consideration of Cricket Solar LLC’s proposal to build a utility-scale solar plant near the Rapidan River.
On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsible Solar delivered a letter to members of the two boards formally requesting more time for officials and the public to review the third site plan Cricket has proposed for the 80-megawatt facility along Algonquin Trail in southern Culpeper.
The group urged the members to halt their deliberations “until a further detailed review of this application for Culpeper County can be adequately and completely evaluated.”
Cricket’s latest proposal, which it filed Friday and planning commissioners received this week, is more than 500 pages long and fills a three-ring binder that’s more than 3 inches thick.
Its second plan, in which the project’s size rose from 1,500 to 1,800 acres, “should have been considered as a new application altogether,” the citizens group said.
“[I]t is imperative that the Planning Commission and concerned citizens be given acceptable time to process the information of the most recent revised application by Cricket Solar, before scheduling a public hearing on the matter,” Algonquin Trail resident Susan Ralston, president of CRS, wrote the appointed and elected officials.
A delay is justified because Cricket has “revised” its application three times in a short while, she wrote.
In particular, the group said it needs more time to properly analyze three important reports within Cricket’s application—a property appraisal, an economic analysis, and a review of historic and cultural sites. The economic analysis has “substantially changed,” Ralston wrote.
“Our reports must be completed with plenty of time for the Planning Commission to review before a public hearing,” she wrote the officials.
Secondly, commissioners and supervisors need enough time to weigh different ideas, such as rules similar to Madison County’s newly revised zoning ordinance, which limits large-scale solar plants to industrially zoned land, or limiting such projects’ size on agricultural land to no more than 200 acres, Ralston wrote.
“There must be further discussion on alternative solutions for more responsible and conscientious solar energy production in Culpeper County,” she wrote.
Ralston noted that the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee heard a Spotsylvania County land-use official’s presentation Tuesday on how that county intends to mitigate issues with a 500-megawatt, 6,500-acre plant approved in western Spotsylvania.
That facility, to be developed by sPower, would be the largest solar-energy facility proposed east of the Rocky Mountains and the third-largest in the nation.
Richard Street, Spotsylvania’s deputy director of environmental codes, recommended Culpeper set conditions on soil testing, traffic and parking, an emergency response plan, invasive plant species, site-specific safety plans, and decommissioning solar plants.
The Rules Committee took no action on those ideas, but Planning Director Sam McLearen expressed support for requiring solar plants to be built in phases to limit how much land is disturbed by construction at any given time. County staff and elected officials have been discussing limiting the size of individual projects and limiting solar plants to industrially zoned land, he said.
The latter action would be hard to do, McLearen said at the Rules Committee meeting. Catalpa District Supervisor Sue Hansohn said “it’s just not a good idea.”
“It is imperative that all of these issues be fully researched and firm decisions on a solar ordinance be put in place before approving any projects,” Ralston wrote the boards.
In recent weeks, more than 1,500 Culpeper residents have signed a petition supporting the group’s campaign to stop development of industrial-scale solar complexes on farmland, she noted.
In July, McLaughlin & Associates, a pollster hired by the citizens group, found that opposition to utility-scale solar facilities on agricultural land is highest among residents of Culpeper County’s Stevensburg District, with 59.2 percent against such plants and 32.2 percent of respondents favoring them.
Apple, Microsoft, Akamai, Etsy and the University of Richmond will buy electricity generated by sPower’s Spotsylvania plant, the solar-energy company has said.
Those companies have announced “over the last few years that they want to go 100 percent renewable, and these data centers are very energy intensive [and] energy hungry,” Daniel Menahem, sPower’s senior manager of solar development, told WTOP last year.
Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and other global tech giants have built massive data centers in Virginia because 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through Ashburn in Loudoun County, Menahem said.