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EDITORIAL: Solar project is too big for Spotsylvania

After meeting with both sides and reviewing reams of documents, we’ve determined that the rancorous year-long debate over a proposed 6,350-acre solar power plant that has pitted Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County, a small local grassroots group, against a large, out-of-state corporation comes down to this: the project is way too big for western Spotsylvania County, and there are too few benefits to county residents to offset this major deficiency.

After meeting with both sides and reviewing reams of documents, we’ve determined that the rancorous year-long debate over a proposed 6,350-acre solar power plant that has pitted Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County, a small local grassroots group, against a large, out-of-state corporation comes down to this: the project is way too big for western Spotsylvania County, and there are too few benefits to county residents to offset this major deficiency.

Utah-based Sustainable Power Group (sPower) wants to turn 10 square miles of agriculturally-zoned land that was previously a tree farm into a forest of solar panels, making it the largest solar facility on the East Coast. The company’s plan to shield this utility-sized power plant from view with trees and berms doesn’t change the fact that it is massive in scale.

Too massive, in fact, for an agricultural zone that abuts a residential area. Which is why the county’s Planning Commission recommended that sPower be given a special use permit to erect solar panels only on 245 acres, the smallest of its three connecting sites and also the one farthest away from... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

After meeting with both sides and reviewing reams of documents, we’ve determined that the rancorous year-long debate over a proposed 6,350-acre solar power plant that has pitted Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County, a small local grassroots group, against a large, out-of-state corporation comes down to this: the project is way too big for western Spotsylvania County, and there are too few benefits to county residents to offset this major deficiency.

Utah-based Sustainable Power Group (sPower) wants to turn 10 square miles of agriculturally-zoned land that was previously a tree farm into a forest of solar panels, making it the largest solar facility on the East Coast. The company’s plan to shield this utility-sized power plant from view with trees and berms doesn’t change the fact that it is massive in scale.

Too massive, in fact, for an agricultural zone that abuts a residential area. Which is why the county’s Planning Commission recommended that sPower be given a special use permit to erect solar panels only on 245 acres, the smallest of its three connecting sites and also the one farthest away from homes.

Some objections to the 500-megawatt, $615 million project, including nearby residents’ fears that the proposed solar facility would cause major environmental and health problems during construction and its subsequent 30 years of operation, seem somewhat overblown, and more attributable to a Not In My Backyard attitude that is making it harder and harder to erect needed infrastructure pretty much anywhere.

Both sides have hired appraisers who disagree on what impact the solar farm would have on nearby home values, but it seems beyond dispute that solar panels would be quiet, undemanding neighbors. sPower has also committed to spending $25 million in community upgrades, including replacing aging water pipes in Fawn Lake, although the company admits that these enticements are not legally enforceable.

But sPower’s resistance to posting a cash bond or irrevocable letter of credit to protect Spotsylvania taxpayers from what could be an enormous cost of decommissioning and disposing of 1.8 million solar panels containing toxic cadmium telluride at the end of their useful lifespans if the project’s multiple limited liability corporations skip out is troubling. So is its insistence that the supposed future recycling value of the spent panels three decades from now be included in its current decommissioning plan.

Related to the project’s massive scale—in an area that is much closer to a residential area than most of the nation’s solar facilities of its size—is the fact that sPower has already contracted to sell all of the electricity generated by the proposed Spotsylvania solar facility to power-guzzling tech giants Apple and Microsoft, as well as the University of Richmond.

Microsoft, which already has a data center in Loudoun County, is utilizing tax breaks and a $1.5 million state grant to expand in Mecklenburg County. The expansion will add 100 more jobs, but they’ll all be in Southside, not Spotsylvania.

sPower points to millions of dollars of increased tax revenues the land would generate as a solar plant instead of a tree farm, with no corresponding pressure on county services that a residential subdivision in that same location would create. But a tree farm and a suburban subdivision are not the only options there.

Dr. Dean Bellas of Alexandria-based Urban Analytics, who was hired by Concerned Citizens to analyze the economic impact of the proposed solar farm, noted that “under the sPower proposal, Spotsylvania County will receive declining tax revenues annually on a per-acre basis on an appreciating asset (real estate).”

Bellas concluded that “the forgone tax revenues to Spotsylvania County from alternative development scenarios are substantial… The County would also enjoy larger economic benefits (new jobs, new labor income, and the multiplier effect on the local economy) with less acreage needed.”

Bottom line: If Microsoft or Apple were building a new data center in Spotsylvania County and creating high-paying jobs there, a good case could be made for building such a large solar facility alongside to power it. But that’s not the case. All of the electricity produced, and most of the jobs the project will support after a brief construction period, will be elsewhere.

Even under a best-case scenario with no adverse impacts on local residents, Spotsylvania County will forgo the possibility of more lucrative economic development in the area for a 30-year deal that will mostly benefit sPower and two of the largest corporations in the world. Property taxes and a $25 million good-faith gesture are not enough to offset the potential loss of new jobs, future economic development and the increased tax revenue it would bring, and the loss of thousands of acres of agricultural land.

Solar power can and should be part of Virginia’s energy mix, but this project is too big and offers too few benefits to the county. The Board of Supervisors should follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation and grant sPower a special use permit only on the smallest of the three parcels.


Source: https://www.fredericksburg....

MAR 18 2019
http://www.windaction.org/posts/49603-editorial-solar-project-is-too-big-for-spotsylvania
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