Planning Commission votes on solar farm

Spotsylvania supervisors plan to hold a special meeting on the solar farm Feb. 5.

A proposed 500-megawatt solar farm took a hit Wednesday night as the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission instituted strict conditions before giving a thumbs-down on two of the three special-use permits a Utah-based company seeks.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of two of the three sections, one of which would produce 400 megawatts and comprise 5,200 acres. The entire proposed project would cover about 6,300 acres, but the commission backed only a 245-acre segment.

The proposal now goes to the Board of Supervisors for a decision. It will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the Marshall Center.

Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, also known as sPower, has proposed building the solar power plant in a rural western part of the county zoned agricultural. The solar power would be fed into the electrical grid, with sPower selling the power to large companies such as Apple and Microsoft.

On Wednesday, the commission first voted to recommend that the project was “substantially in accord with the comprehensive plan.” The vote on the largest of the three sites passed by only a 4–3 vote while the other two passed 6–1. Richard Thompson voted no each time.

After a recess allowed staff to update the conditions, the commission voted on the special use permits. Commissioner Howard Smith, of the Livingston District, the location of the site, moved to deny recommendation of all three permits and was seconded by Thompson.

In addition to opposing the 5,200-acre section, the commission also voted against recommendation of the 70-megawatt site on 905 acres. But it voted to recommend the smallest segment, which would generate about 30 megawatts.

There was little discussion throughout by commission members, which frustrated some in the crowd.

In the end, the largely anti-project crowd, filling about half of the 512-seat auditorium, left somewhat happy, while sPower officials were disappointed but looking forward.

“We appreciate all of the hard work by the Planning Commission and staff. We believe this remains a work in progress. Hopefully, we can have a meaningful discussion about the facts and benefits of this project, including economic development and new tax revenue opportunities,” Daniel Menahem, senior manager of solar development for sPower, wrote in an email after the meeting. “We are committed to being a long-term and viable partner with the county and look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors.”

Sean Fogarty, among a group of residents who have banded together to oppose the proposal, said he is “cautiously optimistic.”

Another resident who has been active with the group, Dave Hammond, said he “always has felt this was way too big a scope.”

“The message seems to be start small with very protective measures,” he said.

County staff has set a range of conditions on the project. Planning Director Wanda Parrish said at the meeting that the conditions cover about 20 pages.

The conditions include prohibitions on solar panels containing cadmium telluride and burning of any debris. Cadmium telluride is a toxic substance, but considered by some to be safe inside the panels, according to sPower and a solar expert who testified to the commission for the company.

The company also will be restricted to using only public water, a change from the original plans in which the company planned to drill wells and use groundwater.

The conditions, listed on the county’s website, also cover such issues as the amount of the bond to cover the cleanup of the site once it closes and setbacks from properties, set at a minimum 350 feet. The site is next to the gated Fawn Lake subdivision.

Commission member Mary Lee Carter, who voted to endorse the proposal, said she was concerned primarily about the burning of debris. But she said she learned a great deal about other issues in the process.

“I feel like my concerns have been met,” she said.


This story was updated to correct the name of the adjacent subdivision.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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