The vice president of a solar energy company faced a skeptical audience Thursday night as he laid out plans for the $600 million project in rural Spotsylvania County.
Garret Bean, vice president of development for Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, said the company’s proposed 3,500-acre, 500-megawatt solar farm off West Catharpin Road would produce enough energy to power 82,000 homes a year. It would be the biggest solar farm in Virginia and one of the largest on the East Coast, smack dab in what one resident referred to as “the middle of nowhere.”
But the massive project in western Spotsylvania is actually pretty easy to comprehend, Bean told about 45 people at an informational meeting in Craigs Baptist Church. “It’s a panel on a stick, and it generates power and sends it into the grid,” said Bean, who works out of the company’s satellite office in Long Beach, Calif. The approximately 1 million solar panels would be from 5 to 7 feet tall.
Some residents wondered why the company settled on rural Spotsylvania, where internet and cell service can be hard to come by.
Others expressed concern over the project’s impact on home values and the traffic and noise it will create during the 14-month construction period.
And some questioned whether Spotsylvania would even benefit from the proposal.
Bean said the company chose the site because of its proximity to a Dominion Energy-owned substation, where it can tap into the electrical grid. It would sell the power the solar farm generates to corporations throughout Virginia and possibly other states.
“We are not selling power directly to you—all we are doing is putting it into the electrical grid,” he said.
Bean also noted that much of the land is being timbered, clearing the way for the solar farm. One man complained that it “looks like a bomb has gone off” on the property, which hunt clubs have used for decades.
Bean, addressing concerns about property values, said the county requires a minimum 50-foot buffer between the solar farm and adjacent properties. He said the company would plant trees, if needed, to help hide the solar panels.
“Essentially, we can stay out of sight, out of mind for the most part,” Bean said.
The project would help Spotsylvania by creating hundreds of jobs during construction, and 10-15 full-time positions after that, he said. The solar farm would also increase the property’s taxable value, resulting in more revenue for Spotsylvania, Bean said.
The company plans to purchase about 6,350 acres near Fawn Lake, though the actual solar farm would encompass 3,500 acres. One man asked whether hunters could use the undeveloped land.
“Bullets don’t go well with panels,” Bean said with a smile. “So our preference is not to allow hunting.”
The Spotsylvania Hunt Club has leased much of the property from Riveroak Timberland Investments for the past two decades, and hunters have been using it for at least 60 years.
Daniel Menahem, a project manager for Sustainable Power Group, said the company hopes to find other property for the displaced hunt clubs. And he said the firm would pay to lease a new hunting site for a few years.
“Where you gonna find 5,000 acres?” one man shot back.
The company plans to begin construction in August and wrap up in late 2019. Bean said he knows construction traffic is a concern and that he hopes the company will try to limit it to “off-peak hours.”
The company must obtain a special-use permit, which requires at least two public hearings and approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Original article :Jeff Branscome Fredericksburg.com