Clouds gathering over big solar farms in Va.?
In recent years, many solar farms have been approved by local governments across the state, but the outlook in some areas isn’t so sunny anymore.
In Frederick County, the Board of Supervisors’ rejection of a utility-scale solar project has led to a lawsuit.
In April, Hollow Road Solar LLC and property owners National Fruit Orchards Inc. and Diane Holmes filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against the Frederick County Board of Supervisors in the county’s circuit court, and it’s now been transferred to federal court at the request of the county.
Representatives from Hollow Road Solar, a subsidiary of Leesburg-based Blue Ridge Energy Holdings LLC, had hoped to win approval to build an 80-acre solar plant on a 326-acre property in Gore. It would have generated up to 20 megawatts of energy, and the project required a conditional use permit from the board.
However, on March 10, supervisors voted 6-1 to deny the permit. The move came after the board approved two other permit applications for solar facilities in 2020.
During the meeting, Supervisor J. Douglas McCarthy explained he voted in favor of the earlier projects because the properties were owned by local farmers who wanted to maintain the “rural character of the land.” Hollow Road Solar, he said, is “a purely commercial enterprise. I think we need to be careful not to gobble up agricultural land.”
In response, Hollow Road Solar charges in its lawsuit that the board’s denial was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
Jonah Fogel, a program manager for the University of Virginia’s Environmental Resilience Institute, says it’s not unusual for local officials to be concerned about the ever-increasing number of developers seeking to build solar facilities on Virginia’s rural properties.
He suggests the Frederick County Board of Supervisors — as well as other county boards with similar concerns — may want to consider addressing solar energy specifically in county planning documents. As of late 2020, about 70 solar projects between 5 and 150 megawatts were under consideration by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“It may be that solar kind of came along, and they tried to be as welcoming as possible,” Fogel says, “and then realized that these projects are [getting] bigger and bigger and it may not fit easily into their intention for . . . meeting the strategic objectives of the rural area as it’s outlined in their comprehensive plan.”