Rappahannock News

Culpeper planners deny big solar project

- B M B

In a double unanimous vote on Jan. 11, the Culpeper County Planning Commission denied a new conditiona­l use permit applicatio­n submitted by a previously denied solar project set for Stevensbur­g.

A er being denied in May 2021, Maroon Solar, LLC introduced a revised plan for its utility-scale solar facility.

One of the most prominent changes to the applicatio­n is the acreage of the project.

Previously, in an applicatio­n reviewed and denied in May 2021, Maroon sought to construct and operate the 149 MW project on approximat­ely 1,792.08 acres, occupying approximat­ely 970 acres of panel area.

Recently sought and now not recommende­d by the commission included approximat­ely 1,879 acres, occupying approximat­ely 671 acres of panel area.

The property is located along and between Route 617 (Raccoon Ford Road) and Route 658 (Mt. Pony Road) in the Stevensbur­g Magisteria­l District

ith a recommenda­tion of denial from the commission, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisor­s will decide at a later date whether the project’s location, character, and extent of the proposed project is in accordance with the County’s adopted comprehens­ive plan.

Within the rst motion for denial, Commission­er Katie Reames described the grounds for denial as, “not in compliance with Code Section 15.2223 as the general location or approximat­e location, character and extent thereof is substantia­lly not in accord with the adopted Comprehens­ive Plan.”

A er passing with a 7 to 0, Reames again made a motion to deny the applicatio­n based upon, “Article 17, conditiona­l uses as it does show signi cant impacts that will adversely a ect the health or safety of persons residing or working in the neighborho­od of the proposed use…also does show significan­t potential impacts as stated in 17-1-1.2 to be detrimenta­l to the public welfare to property or improvemen­t in the neighborho­od.”

Reames clari ed her motion to say the signi cant impacts included but not limited to tra c management, stormwater management and erosion and sediment issues.

It again passed with a 7 to 0 vote. Prior to voting, the commission heard from countless citizens and organizati­ons with their objections to the project, including the Piedmont Environmen­tal Council.

“PEC is an advocate for solar energy, especially distribute­d solar and roo op solar,” said PEC Land Use Field Representa­tive for Culpeper County Sarah Parmelee. “We are deeply concerned that the Maroon solar project, in its current form, will have a profound and lasting negative impact on the Stevensbur­g area.”

In March 2021, the commission voted 7-2 that the applicant’s utility- scale solar energy generation facility is not a feature presently shown on the County’s Comprehens­ive Plan, but also that its location, character and extent are not substantia­lly in accord with the comprehens­ive plan, citing three reasons: environmen­tal and future land use.

Despite Maroon appealing the commission’s recommenda­tion, The supervisor­s headed the commission’s advice and denied the applicatio­n in May 2021.

Since the project was initially proposed in 2020, Maroon has taken into account comments from previous meetings and made several design changes.

Those changes include, according to their permit applicatio­n, are:

► Decreased the total improved acreage from 970 acres to 671 acres.

► Reduced the constructi­on duration from over three years to between 18 and 24 months.

► Increased the minimum width of all vegetative buffers to at least 100 feet.

► Increased the set back from Algonquin Trail from 1,500 feet to over 3,500 feet.

► Increased the fence line setbacks from all residences within the vicinity of the Project fence line from 1,000 feet to over 1,300 feet, except for one home that belongs to a Project landowner who is a strong supporter and whose home is located 870 feet from the Project fence line.

► Prohibited constructi­on traffic entry at the Mt. Pony Road site access. The entrance off Raccoon Ford Road will be designated as the primary constructi­on and equipment delivery entrance. The entrance off of Mt. Pony Road will only be used for access by operations and maintenanc­e personnel once the Project is operationa­l.

► Relocated the substation further into the middle of the Project so that it is at least 3,000 feet from the nearest residentia­l property.

A new substation. will be constructe­d on site in order to connect to the existing Remington- Gordonsvil­le transmissi­on line that runs through the southern portion of the site.

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