The decision on the massive proposed solar facility in Spotsylvania County could come Tuesday.
The Board of Supervisors last addressed the proposal in March, compiling remaining issues and concerns related to the proposed 500-megawatt solar facility. The supervisors eventually voted to use a stringent list of conditions, set previously by the Planning Commission, as a so-called baseline.
The supervisors are expected to hash out the details of the conditions on Tuesday and then possibly vote on what has become a contentious issue between residents and the applicant.
The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. The solar facility will be taken up after the 6:30 p.m. public comment period and a public hearing on the Virginia Department of Transportation's secondary road six-year plan.
Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, a major player in the solar industry with more than 150 solar and wind projects in the U.S., wants to build a $615 million solar farm with 1.8 million solar panels planted on three tracts covering more than half of the 6,300-plus-acre site in the Wilderness area.
The facility would measure up with some of the largest industrial solar sites in the United States.
The company, also known as sPower, says the project would be environmentally clean and safe and that it would be an economic boon for the county. But opponents, many of whom live near the site, say the project is too big, too close to residents and presents unknown risks.
The company is seeking three special-use permits, one for each of the sections of the site. The Planning Commission recommended denial of the two larger sections and approval of the smallest one. All told, the three sections would take up about 3,300 acres.
The proposal comes during a solar industry boom, with facilities being built in states outside of the traditional solar hotbed of California. Virginia leaders have established a plan to bring more solar facilities online. One sign of that progress is the recent approval of a 340 megawatt solar facility in Charles City County.
Taylor Keeney, a spokeswoman for sPower, said the process in Charles City County went smoothly, with the board approving a special-use permit 3-0.
The complete opposite has played out with the Spotsylvania project, as a vocal group of local residents has mounted an intense effort to block the facility. But there is support for the project, too, including from the Rappahannock Sierra Club and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
The supervisors have been given mountains of information and testimony as the project has worked through the process since late 2017, when sPower filed for special-use permits on the agriculturally zoned property.
The Planning Commission conditions cover a multitude of issues, including several that have dominated the fight between opponents and supporters.
Use of solar panels containing cadmium telluride and the potential for the toxin to leach into the environment has been a big issue.
A county consultant and experts hired by sPower have presented evidence that the panels with cadmium telluride are safe.
Another issue cited by residents is the potential fire hazard the facility would present.
Deputy Fire Chief Steven Cooper, with the county’s Fire, Rescue & Emergency Management, has told supervisors the county has the equipment and resources to handle potential fires at the site. But he added that adequate access would be crucial.
Another key issue is the potential economic benefit of the project, with both sides presenting opposing evidence supporting their cases.
SPower projects the county will receive $21.1 million total in new tax revenue from facility over the life of the project and $25 million in additional funds from the company. Opponents project that the facility would lower surrounding property values and suppress additional development to the point where the county would lose revenue over that time.
Decommissioning, or clearing the site whenever it closes, is another key issue. The original agreement calls for the site to operate for 40 years, but that could be longer.
The Planning Commission conditions call for a decommissioning bond totaling approximately $36 million, something sPower contends is too high and that a credit for recycling should be included to decrease that figure.
The bond would be re-evaluated every two years to determine if the total is adequate and fair.
While the supervisors could vote on the proposal Tuesday, they have until the end of April to make a decision.