Virginia residents reject a massive solar farm plan for the third time, citing environmental concerns

A local jurisdiction in Northern Virginia has come close to rejecting a clean energy developer’s plan to build a massive 149 megawatt solar facility on a sprawling farmland for the third time in three years.

The Culpeper County, Virginia, Planning Commission, a nine-member panel that reviews zoning and development proposals in the county, voted unanimously during a public hearing last week to recommend that the Board of Supervisors reject the facility proposal. During the meeting, the residents and members of the authority expressed their concern about the size of the project and its agricultural and environmental impacts.

The Maroon Solar project was first proposed by North Carolina-based Strata Clean Energy in 2020. The company withdrew its original application after stiff opposition from local residents and submitted an amended proposal in 2021. After the county rejected it, Strata came back with Its third proposal last year.

“We advocate solar in covered parking lots along highways, in marginal fields, or on industrial park lands,” Susan Ralston, founder of the Virginia-based group Citizens for Responsible Solar, told Fox News Digital in an interview. “But what we don’t want to see is the removal of vast tracts of farmland, farmland and trees [agricultural] The use and use of solar energy.

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Images show runoff in Culpeper, Virginia, near the area of ​​the proposed project, during a 2020 rainstorm. Opponents of the Maroon Solar project say runoff will be made worse by the project and potentially pollute the water.
(Citizens for Responsible Solar Energy)

Ralston, who spoke at the hearing last week, founded Citizens for Responsible Solar in 2019 to help provide resources and information to local solar opposition efforts. The group has been active in supporting grassroots movements against the development of solar power facilities, including the Maroon Solar project and others in Northern Virginia, on rural properties.

Ralston also noted that Strata’s most recent bid includes a $4 million positioning deal.

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“It’s like a monetary incentive, it’s like bribery. You know, ‘If you agree to our project, we’ll give you $4 million in cash once you approve it,'” Ralston said. There is a lot of money at stake.”

During the January 11 hearing, many local residents expressed concern about the project, echoing Ralston’s concerns.

Among the main objections to the project was the potential environmental impact of the water runoff, which could disturb agricultural production in the area.

A community solar farm in Illinois on Oct. 11.

A community solar farm in Illinois on Oct. 11.
(Erin Holley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“I’m from a farm family and I’m probably bringing some kind of perspective to the floods,” William Foshai, a local farmer, told the committee during the Jan. 11 hearing. “It’s a wet area with highly productive soil. In an average rainy year, we get our corn out into the ground in the middle of May. If we’re dealing with a huge amount of impermeable soil [solar] Cover the slabs and the massive amount of tree removal, the subsoil would remain impermeable – the runoff would be significant.

“Only in an average rainy year, that means the soil — we won’t get into it until June,” he added. “Moreover, in really bad years, you’re going to see massive sediment runoff. You’re going to see massive amounts of erosion that permanently endanger productive farmland.”

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Josiah Wilkes, a young resident who was accompanied by his father, told the committee that the project was about “the money a few people will make” from it.

“I think solar panels would be really good on top of office buildings, on hospitals, and even on top of people’s homes,” said Wilkes. “Can we keep our farmland for cows, crops, and forests? Farmers need to grow the food and timber we all need. We don’t have to be like other counties in Virginia that want money from data centers and solar fields.”

Wilkes’ father Joshua added that the proposal would benefit “a select few landowners who would get pocket money” with the potential to cause “catastrophic environmental issues and waste of land”.

Sarah Parmeli, a landowner and member of the Piedmont Environmental Council, wrote to the committee earlier this month, saying the proposal would “destroy nearly a thousand acres of timber.”

In addition to the environmental impacts, the Planning Commission voted against the proposal because it violates the county’s solar development policy approved in October 2019. The policy limits solar projects to 300 acres and requires certain restrictions on disturbances from the construction of such facilities.

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The commission concluded that the project would, however, extend over 671 acres of farmland, and the construction would affect surrounding property owners.

Planning Commission staff wrote in a report dated December 28: “The sheer size and scale of this project will undoubtedly change in many ways the character of the area, and should be taken into account.” Solar panels will change the character of the neighborhood.

“Staff cannot recommend that this project be supported at this time as proposed because it is not sufficiently aligned with the province’s current solar policy.”

Strata Clean Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

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