The public hearing is looming for the proposed 500-megawatt solar facility in the western part of Spotsylvania County.
The Board of Supervisors public hearing, for three special-use permits, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The hearing will be held at Spotsylvania High School because of the expected large crowd. The county’s Planning Commission was forced to hold its meetings on the three special-use permits at the Marshall Center to accommodate the crowds.
If the supervisors’ hearing resembles past meetings on the contentious proposal, it will be a long night, with the applicant, Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, and residents who live near the site dueling to convince the supervisors to side with them.
Supervisor Gary Skinner, who told the board earlier this month he can’t attend the hearing because of a planned family trip, said there is “too much information” for him to make a decision anytime soon.
“I’m not ready for a vote,” he said in an interview last week. “This is the biggest project, I think, Spotsylvania will ever have.”
Fellow Supervisor David Ross agreed, adding in an email that Skinner’s absence would preclude the board from voting. But that appears to be a secondary issue.
“I personally believe after the public hearing and whatever the final changes (if any) are made to the SUP—there should be time to sink in before taking a vote,” Ross said in the email.
What has unfolded since sPower filed an application early last year to build the facility caught many by surprise.
The magnitude of the project has dominated much of the county’s business during the past year. Aside from filings with the State Corporation Commission and county, there has been opposition by well-organized and well-funded residents.
Already a major player in the booming solar industry, sPower wants to build a $615-million facility with 1.8 million solar panels planted on three swaths of land covering about 6,300-acres that has long been farmed for timber in a rural but increasingly populated area of the county. The property is zoned agricultural.
The project measures up with the biggest solar facilities in the country.
The largest such solar facility is known as Solar Star, a 579-megawatt plant in Rosamond, Calif. Like other utility-scale solar facilities, Solar Star was built in an isolated area of the Mojave Desert.
The proposed Spotsylvania site is on previously forested land with wildlife, although the property has been largely clear cut by a timber company.
The site also is bordered, in places, by homes, including the Fawn Lake neighborhood. Residents have formed groups in an effort to oppose the project.
The campaign on each side has ramped up recently, with sPower running slick video ads promoting the project and a resident group called Protect Spotsylvania sending out glossy fliers criticizing the solar farm.
The company is promoting the Spotsylvania proposal as a green energy project. The company has agreements with such tech giants as Microsoft and Apple to sell electricity the plant would generate and pipe into the power grid.
Although the facility’s electricity would be sold to companies outside the county, sPower says it would prove beneficial to Spotsylvania. Those primary benefits are financial, via jobs, tax revenue and attracting companies that would want to set up in the county.
Local attorney Charlie Payne, who represents sPower, said the project would generate $22 million in tax revenue alone.
Opponents dispute sPower’s revenue claims.
The Protect Spotsylvania group produced an analysis claiming the county would lose up to $88 million over 35 years, based on property value decreases along with 191 “unbuilt lots” and revenue tied to loss of construction of homes on the lots.
Among a raft of other issues, opponents say the project is too big to be built near homes and poses health and environmental risks.
The company disputes such claims, saying its scientific evidence backs up its position that the facility would be safe. Company officials also contend that its information has been vetted by intense regulatory oversight while the opponents’ information has not.
The company has adjusted its proposal, including planned water usage, after its initial filing.
Still, the planning commission set more conditions last month.
The additional restrictions focus on such things as setbacks from property lines, erosion control, construction impacts, prohibiting solar panels with cadmium telluride, the use of groundwater and burning debris.
The planning commission denied the larger two of the three special-use permit requests, one of which would produce 400 megawatts and comprise 5,200 acres.