STEVENSBURG–Gloria Jean Stegmaier cherishes the pastoral views from her front porch, but is fearful the view will be shattered by the utility scale solar project planned on 1,000 acres near her Blackjack Road home in southeastern Culpeper County.
“I’ve had a lot of surgeries so I can’t do much. This is what I do. I just sit here and that’s my view,” she said looking across the road to hills and fields, about quarter-mile away, slated for the large solar farm.
Stegmaier added she has been heartsick since Texas-based Open Road Renewables submitted plans to construct the $130 million project, Greenwood Solar, on a handful of family-owned farms in the Stevensburg area, including 2.3 acres owned by Culpeper County Board Chairman Bill Chase.
“It just totally disrupts our lives,” she said. “It’s not fair to be having a project of this scope thrown at us in such a short amount of time. No one came and asked us if we wanted to have solar. I’m not against solar. I just don’t think it should be in such a historic area.”
A growing number of voices agree with her, including the American Battlefield Trust, the influential Washington, D.C. nonprofit historic group that owns hundreds of battlefield acreage in Culpeper County.
Attorney John Foote, representing Open Road Renewables, wrote in a letter to the county that solar projects do not pollute the land or tax public services like the large housing developments Culpeper has seen in the past decade.
“The proposed project will expand the county’s economic base while not adversely affecting its rural character,” he stated in the letter. “We believe the application is consistent with the goals and policies of the current comprehensive plan.”
Landowner Crystal Hawkins Tingler, on whose family’s land a portion of the Greenwood Solar project would be built, expressed her support for it in a letter to the county.
“We value the mission of renewable energy and we value its continued preservation of our land,” she wrote. “Blood, sweat and tears for nearly 80 years has led us here. No regrets, no remorse. We are proud to have been farmers and we remain proud with a plan to continue farming for years and years to come.”
Stegmaier and her husband moved in 2000 from Fairfax to the area, purchasing 50 acres and the circa 1840s house, Alvere. It’s one of the lesser known pre-Civil War homes located along the historic Old Carolina Road and was built as a farm manager’s residence for nearby Clover Hill, according to noted historian Clark “Bud” Hall.
George Armstrong Custer honeymooned with his new bride during the War Between the States at Clover Hill, which though in extreme disrepair now dates to the time of the American Revolution. It is located in the area where most of the heavy fighting occurred during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, the largest-ever cavalry clash fought on North American soil.
On Tuesday night, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors heard from another six residents opposed to the Greenwood Solar project and a second project, Virginia Solar, planned along Glen Ella Road in the Inlet area.
Stevensburg area resident Don Haight, Jr. called for extensive study prior to either of the projects being approved addressing view sheds, property values and construction impacts.
“These are industrial power plants,” he said, calling for minimum 1,000-feet separations from any adjoining property line. “Only a fool would want to live beside them.”
If built, Haight added, the projects will devastate tourism in the area.
Hall spoke as well, saying it was 30 years ago this month that he spoke before the Culpeper County Board in opposition to a largescale corporate/industrial complex on the Brandy Station Battlefield. The project was approved, but it went bankrupt before getting built, Hall said.
Shortly thereafter, a New York developer submitted plans for a Formula 1 racetrack on the battlefield and it too was approved before going bankrupt.
“Now, new developers appear on the scene here in Culpeper County with plans to erect industrial solar operations directly upon the rich historical landscape of a county that was the single most fought-over, marched and camped upon county in the entire United States,” Hall said.
The Old Carolina Road, on which the Greenwood Solar project would front is among the most significant Civil War landscapes in the entire U.S., he added.
“Excepting some new dwellings along this fabled and ancient transportation artery, the landscape on both sides of the road mirrors almost exactly the same landscape as experienced by our ancestors from 1861-1865,” Hall said.
He described the solar projects as the “latest get-rich scheme,” asking county leaders to reject the applications.
Jeanne Burns, whose home adjoins the Virginia Solar project, said she is sick at the prospect of it.
“I mow my lawn and want to puke at the thought of this gorgeous view being ruined,” she said.
Joyce Brown said they’d be able to see a mile of farmland covered with solar panels from their Stevensburg area farm.
“This is our livelihood, our retirement,” she said.
Brown asked the board to hold a voters’ referendum on the solar farm projects.
Stegmaier, speaking Tuesday from her front porch, said she enjoys her peace and quiet – that’s why she moved to Culpeper County.
“In my later years, I just don’t need this aggravation. I don’t need it,” she said, near tears. “Just bottom line, I don’t like it. I like my view the way it is.”
The American Civil War Trust is working to protect those views with the recent commission and completion of, “A War-Time Viewshed Study of Culpeper County.” More details about the study and its findings will be forthcoming in the near future.