Since the Culpeper County Planning Commission recommended the denial of Maroon Solar’s requested conditional use permit to construct a 970-acre, 149-megawatt solar farm off Raccoon Ford Road in November, the company has revised its plans and resubmitted an application.
Reasons for the board’s recommendation included the proposed size of the solar farm and that the project does not fall in line with the county’s comprehensive plan. With county guidelines stating that solar farms should not exceed 300 acres, the proposal more than quintuples that land-use policy. The county is currently in the process of reviewing its land-use policies regarding solar projects.
Dave Stoner, a development consultant for Maroon's North Carolina-based parent company Strata Solar, explained via telephone that it was disappointing to not earn the recommendation, but the company took what the planners said to heart and thought it was best to pull the permit and resubmit based on the concerns presented.
While the plans do not modify the project’s size, the revised application calls for the development’s substation to be located internally within the site, compared to the previously proposed site about 1,800 feet off Raccoon Ford Road.
“No one will be able to see that substation from any vantage point,” Stoner said.
The revised location, Stoner said, also eliminates the majority of construction traffic on Racoon Ford Road. Instead, he said, just about a half-mile of the road that is in good shape will be used.
Strata Solar developer Louis Iannone explained the substation’s relocation, coupled with a 200-foot setback from all property lines, means that no homes will be within 1,000 feet of the project. That 200-foot setback, Iannone noted, is 50 more feet than required by the county’s ordinance. Additionally, timber buffers should further eliminate the site’s visibility. With everything considered, he said the proposed solar field is “the most isolated project that I have worked on.”
Another change is that the project would be constructed in three phases, compared to the previously envisioned timeline in which it would have been built over one construction season. While Stoner could not say exactly how long the change would impact the construction’s length, he said each phase may take up to one year compared to the previously envisioned 18-month build. Additionally, he noted that breaking the project into phases would allow more time for re-vegetation.
Stoner said the proposed site is perfect because it consists of unfarmable land with dense, poor-quality soil. That is not to say, he added, that solar panels can not be successfully located on agricultural land.
If built, the solar field has an estimated life of 35 years. After that lifespan, Strata Solar would be responsible for decommissioning the project and making the land suitable again for timber production. To ensure that Strata Solar would decommission the site, Stoner explained the company would provide a bond and letter of credit.
Strata Solar would be the developer and owner of the project, and the power generated would be sold into Dominion’s grid. Most likely, Stoner said the power generated at the site would be purchased by a major utility company in Virginia.
The project’s biggest benefit to the community, Stoner said, would be about $10 million in “revenue share” payments in lieu of taxes. Additionally, he said the construction would create about 300 jobs, which could turn into long-term jobs as the company likes to move employees from site to site. How many of those jobs would be local hires, Iannone said, is hard to estimate. Long-term, the project is estimated to create about 12 maintenance jobs.
Culpeper County staff is reviewing the application and the next step is for the proposal to eventually return to the planning commission.