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Several state and local agencies, including VDOT and DEQ, have granted final approvals for the Greenwood Solar power plant in Culpeper, which neighbors contested.

The 100-megawatt solar generation facility has been gearing up to come to fruition in Stevensburg over the next few years since its approval in 2018.

This month, the Culpeper County Planning Commission was not ready to approve the Greenwood site plan. The panel delayed action, unsurprisingly, during the initial review at its August 10 meeting.

County staff recommended approval.

Planning Commission approval is not required for the project to proceed on 732 acres of farmland, pasture and forest land off the Batna and Blackjack roads, along the Dominion transmission line.

It is the only solar plant of several proposed in this area of ​​Culpeper to have an approved conditional use permit, granted nearly four years ago.

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Plan approved, major work on site

Plans show eight building entrances for the project spread across 12 separate areas. Primary truck access will be via Blackjack Road.

NextEra Energy, based in Juno Beach, Florida, will develop the project with 350,000 solar panels and associated equipment, stormwater management facilities, a fenced perimeter and a substation. Significant clearing and harvesting of woodlots will be required to prepare the site.

NextEra has submitted more than 180 pages of construction documents and drawings for review by the planning commission, which has two months to take action on the site plan. This is a final step before construction can begin.

Project Manager Heath Barefoot, with NextEra Energy, attended the recent meeting in the county council chambers. He had minimal interaction with the curators, answering a question confirming that his company had taken over the project from a previous developer.

There were many questions and comments from the planners, but the bulky request was finally filed.

The Timmons Group’s site plan documents included detailed plans for dozens of sediment ponds around the project, to be built on multiple plots, adjacent to the recently approved Amazon data center site, according to a recent analysis by the Environmental Council of Piedmont. .

The Warrenton-based regional nonprofit, representing Virginia’s northern Piedmont, is among many local and state historic preservation and open space conservation groups opposing Greenwood Solar in Stevensburg.

Plans for the project also show a series of clean water ditches around the panels, silt fences, embankments and an excavated spillway. Impacts from mass grading will be minimal, Culpeper County Planning Director Sam McLearen told the planning commission.

McLearen said the developer tried to meet the intent of the 50-acre-at-a-time grading limit included in the county’s 2019 solar policy, even though it’s not mandatory.

The project will feature extensive and required landscaping and screening and is consistent with the county’s overall plan, he said.

The Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District has approved the site plan for Culpeper’s first large-scale solar project. Not the planning commission.

Planners delay vote, can’t stop project

“It’s very hard to say we’re ready to go through this, with all of our questions,” member Cindy Thornhill said to start.

Members Keith Price and Nate Clancy agreed, asking to postpone the matter until September, with the latter saying he needed more time to digest the request.

Clancy said large solar is a hot issue and wondered if Greenwood might be required to reapply under current policies.

Commissioner Doug Grover reminded colleagues that the property was approved for use in 2018.

“We’re not here to decide that,” he said. “As to saying, ‘I don’t want that here,’ that was years ago. I just want to make it clear that these plans have already been approved by all the review bodies. We approve it is a formality at this point.

The Planning Commission can refuse the site plan, Grover said.

“It does not deny their right to build,” he said.

The neighbors sued; the “yes” vote was slim

Greenwood Solar, valued at $130 million in 2020, survived a 2019 lawsuit against the supervisory board by neighbors who claimed the solar plant would ruin their pastoral views. Neighbors claimed in the lawsuit that the project would hurt property values ​​in an area known for its agriculture and history.

The lawsuit sought reverse county approval from the Circuit Court, saying the project was greenlit in violation of Virginia’s Commonwealth energy policy imposing “reasonable requirements” for such projects.

Judge Susan Whitlock, now retired, sided with the county, ruling that the council acted within its legal rights to approve the solar project, in accordance with energy policy.

It ruled in 2020 that local criteria related to renewable energy projects in Virginia must provide for the protection of the locality in a manner consistent with the state’s expressed goals of promoting solar and wind energy.

“Reasonable requirements” to limit construction noise, buffers and setbacks from neighboring properties and decommissioning must also be included, the judge said, finding those present in the Greenwood plan.

Only three members of the seven-member supervisory board voted to go-ahead Greenwood Solar in 2018. Only one of them, current board chairman Gary Deal, remains on the body. local manager.

The other two “yes” votes came from supervisors Sue Hansohn and Alexa Fritz.

Brad Rosenberger, also still a board member, abstained from voting on the conditional use license, due to potential business interest, as did Stevensburg supervisor Bill Chase. The county’s longest-serving supervisor died on July 14, following his election loss in 2021 for the first time in 40 years.

Chase had accepted that part of the Greenwood project crosses his land and revealed this fact early on.

PEC: Proposal challenges land use plan

The neighbors continue to oppose the big project. The same goes for the Environmental Council of Piedmont, which in a letter of August 9 expressed concern about land use changes in the region and questioned whether the request was still in line with the compensation plan.

The letter said Amazon was approved in April to build a 430,000 square foot data center on 243 acres of farmland adjacent to Greenwood Solar.

“Both developments appear to require additional power infrastructure such as two new dedicated substations in both the Amazon Data Center and Greenwood Solar plans and possibly additional transmission lines,” the letter states.

“The result is over 1,000 acres becoming heavily industrialized in an area that was not slated for any development beyond agriculture. This is beyond what was expected in 2018.”

Another major land use change is the recent permitting of Culpeper Battlefields State Park, 1,700 acres on the Civil War battlefields of Cedar Mountain and Brandy Station, slated to open May 1. July 2024, the PEC letter says.

Greenwood is not adjacent to the park site, but is part of the landscape around it and this development would impact the setting that tourists and visitors will experience, PEC said.

Planned “disruptive process”

Stevensburg District resident Desy Campbell in an August 10 letter asked that the project be denied.

“This project is akin to a paved parking lot, in the middle of a vast expanse of farmland in Culpeper County, with numerous solar panels directing the flow of water as the sky rages in a watery, windy fury – a more common occurrence today than in the past,” Campbell wrote.

Commissioner Raymond Zegley posed a question on the oft-discussed topic of blasting at the solar plant site. A Timmons engineer responds that this is a construction method being considered following a geotechnical report.

He said blasting would not be recommended unless “absolutely necessary”.

Commissioner Katie Reames asked about pesticides on the site.

Price asked how the substation that would serve the facility would connect to the Dominion power grid.

“Will there be other Dominion towers in this area?” ” He asked.

Engineer Timmons said no. This is why the project is located next to high voltage transmission lines, he said.

The project will be bordered by a chain-link fence with barbed wire, he said.

Price, along with the rest of the commission, voted to postpone a public hearing on the case until September 14.

He said in his closing remarks that the Big Move would be “a disruptive process”.