Whitehouse Solar Site (copy)

Members of the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission and others get an up-close look at one of the panels at the Whitehouse Solar Site in Louisa.

The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to repeal local tax exemptions for large solar facilities.

The decision was made as Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, known as sPower, is asking the county for special-use permits to build a 500-megawatt solar facility in the western part of the county. The facility would use 1.8 million solar panels to produce energy that would be pumped into the electric grid.

The company has not asked for the exemption, and would pay the tax, Charlie Payne, a local attorney representing sPower, said in an email.

He added that the company "desires to pay its share of taxes and is working hard to ease the tax abatement provided by the state. We will be a positive corporate citizen and generate positive tax revenues and benefits to this county."

The repeal will not impact any other businesses, as there are no large solar facilities in the county.

A public hearing on the repeal was held prior to the board vote on Tuesday. No members of the public spoke.

Supervisors voted unanimously to get rid of the exemption, which was created in 2007 to eliminate both personal property and real estate taxes for solar plants.

Repealing the tax break would have no fiscal impact on the county, Deputy County Administrator Mark Cole told the supervisors.

Cole said previous supervisors adopted the tax break at a time when it was “cost prohibitive” to build large-scale solar facilities. He said the industry has changed since then, and costs have dropped.

Parts of the country are in the midst of a large-scale solar boom, partially because of federal and state tax breaks that help make such projects more affordable to build and profitable to run.

Virginia is one state seeking more solar energy production.

That is one thing that drew sPower to Spotsylvania. The company’s proposal calls for panels to be set up on three tracts on the property, taking up about half of the more than 6,300-acre site.

Some residents who live near the site have formed groups and continue to speak out against the project, or at least ask questions. Their concerns cover a range of potential impacts, including long-term risks to the county and adverse effects it may have on the environment, health and property values. They also have questioned the company’s intentions, saying the project is a money grab.

Company officials, as well as some county residents, have disputed claims of negative impacts. The company has produced scientific studies in an effort to address questions and concerns.

Officials also have said the project would be good for the county in that it would bring in jobs and revenue and would put the county on the renewable energy map, which could draw more investment to the area.

The county Planning Commission held a public hearing earlier this month on one of the three special-use permits sPower is seeking. The permit change would convert zoning from agricultural to industrial.

Staff did not recommend approval, saying more information was needed from sPower.

A second public hearing for the other two special-use permits is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the Marshall Center.

The board of supervisors has final say on the proposal, and will also hold a public hearing prior to voting.

This article has been updated to show sPower's position on the local tax for large solar facilities and that the public hearing was held on Tuesday.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436 sshenk@freelancestar.com

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