United States

Proposed Solar Farm in Spotsylvania Sparks Major Debate

A concerned citizens group is worried about erosion, property values and eyesores

A plan to build the biggest solar farm on the east coast in Spotsylvania is getting a strong pushback from some residents.

The facility would be located on three sites in Western Spotsylvania.

Both opponents and supporters are gearing up for important planning commission meeting Wednesday night.

Michael O'Bier has lived in his rural Spotsylvania county home for 33 years. His property is nestled in the woods, but trees end at his property line. The adjacent land has been clear-cut in anticipation of the proposed solar facility.

"It's terrible. You cut off all the trees and you have nothing but bare land," O'Bier said.

A company called S-Power wants to build a massive solar energy center on 6,000 acres, much of which is presently owned by a lumber company. More than half of the land would be covered with solar panels.

"This would be the fifth largest solar plant in the United States. The other 4 are in the desert southwest. All 10 of (the largest of) these are nowhere near a residential area," said Kevin McCarthy, a vocal opponent of the project.

McCarthy, O'Bier and others have joined forces to form Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County.

Sporting red shirts at public meetings and stickers on their jackets saying "Protect Spotsylvania," the group has spent 10 months studying the potential impact.

Opponents are worried about a heat island effect, erosion that could damage already fragile streams, property values dropping and eyesores.

Other residents like Dave Wilson welcome the new neighbor. He thinks thousands of solar panels will be an improvement over the lumber company that operated next door.

"For us, it's just a blessing because we can finally get some peace and quiet out here," Wilson said.

Charlie Payne, the attorney working with S-power to try to win county approval, says the company promises to block out any view of the panels with berms and new vegetation.

He also says the solar plant would benefit Spotsylvania by elevating its status.

"This is the future, and look who our partners are at the table. It's Microsoft. It's Apple There's some real opportunity for this area and for Spotsylvania County and I'm looking forward to making it happen," Payne said.

The planning commission is reviewing the project and it will go in front of the board of supervisors sometime in March.

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