SPOTSYLVANIA County’s Board of Supervisors will soon decide on sPower’s proposed Solar Energy Center. This project is consistent with both Virginia’s 2018 energy policy and the county’s comprehensive plan, both of which encourage the development of renewable solar resources.

Last year, Microsoft, in connection with its data center in Mecklenburg, announced its intention to acquire 315 megawatts of power from the solar project, which represents the largest corporate acquisition of renewable power in the entire U.S. And just a couple weeks ago, the company announced a further expansion of its data center.

Solar, and the desire for renewable energy, is growing in Virginia.

Most Spotsylvania County residents also support this project. Recent polling demonstrates strong support, with 67 percent of voters supporting the project.

Unfortunately, instead of a discussion about the future benefits to Spotsylvania, the sPower project has been subject to negative attacks by a small minority of county residents. Most of these attacks are without merit and have included a strategy of fear and intimidation.

As the Board of Supervisors’ vote nears, we would like to clarify some of the myths that have been propelled about the project.

Dangerous chemicals: All panels utilized will be safe and EPA compliant. SPower has also agreed to soil test throughout the life of the project. We find all of these alarmist concerns about the hazards of solar quite interesting from folks who live 14 miles from a nuclear power facility!

Property values: Chris Kaila, a well-respected professional appraiser from Spotsylvania County with over 40 years of experience in appraising properties in the area, has concluded the project will have no adverse impact on surrounding property values.

Heat island: Heat island effects simply will not occur at this site. One of the foremost experts in the world on this subject, Dr. Vasilis Fthenakis from Columbia University, has concluded this would not occur or impact the surrounding community.

Water: SPower will use only public water during construction and operations. Further, sPower is contributing $3.5 million (half the cost) to improve public utilities in the immediate area even though its water use will be minimal after construction. The improvements will benefit area residents for the long-term by enhancing the neighborhood’s fire flow and water capacity needs.

Debris removal: SPower has agreed not to burn debris and will either mulch or haul all debris from the project site.

Decommissioning: Some claim the county is not requiring an adequate decommissioning bond. This is untrue. The question in establishing a reasonable decommissioning bond is what is the proper balance between the raw costs to decommission and the value of the remaining assets.

By way of example, Culpeper County recently approved a 100MW project and required $500,000 for the initial decommissioning bond. sPower likewise will provide adequate bonding for this project.

Comprehensive plan: The claim that the project is inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan is simply untrue. Just this past May, the county revised its comprehensive plan to encourage solar uses in agriculturally zoned areas. The project will preserve acreage from dense residential development and protect culturally sensitive areas and native species . County staff has concluded the same.

Economic development: This $615 million private investment will have a significant economic ripple effect and will be a job creator, hiring 800-1,000 local employees during construction, including electricians, site contractors, landscapers, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, engineers, waste management, and security guards.

Initial construction will generate $110 million in economic output and another $164 million over the life of the project. It will also generate approximately $13 million in new gross tax revenues for the county, which reflects a 1,800 percent increase over current tax generation without impacts on schools, public safety, transportation or other county services.

SPower is also committed to investing another $25 million over the life of the project in county priorities such as STEM education and workforce training, and will assist the county in reducing its electricity bills.

SPower’s project could also enhance the county’s marketability, including the attraction of new technology and other companies. Microsoft and Apple are already contract partners, which further enhances the county’s economic development opportunities.

Most recently, the director of Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy wrote to the chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors that, “Projects such as the one planned for your county have the dual effect of enabling the solar industry to grow and mature in Virginia, but also serve as one of the most effective business attraction tools for many large corporate prospects seeking sites for new operations or expansion.”

The sPower solar project will play a role in reducing dangerous greenhouse effects that impact our global environment while providing enhanced new commercial tax revenues and an entree into new economic development opportunities.

Let’s end the fear mongering and say “yes” to this unique opportunity.

Charlie Payne is a partner with the Hirschler law firm and counsel to sPower.

Charlie Payne is a partner with the Hirschler law firm and counsel to sPower.

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