Foes of a proposed 1,300-acre, utility-scale solar project are asking the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors to deny a permit for the facility.
On Tuesday evening, the newly formed Citizens for Responsible Solar pressed the board to reject the California company’s plan to build tens of thousands of solar panels on farmland along Algonquin Trail near Racoon Ford.
Eight landowners addressed the board, for three minutes each, during the period it reserves during meetings for citizens’ public comments.
Susan Ralston, who owns Finally Farm with her husband, Troy, was first to speak.
Landowners and residents incorporated their nonprofit group “in response to the disturbing and aggressive recklessness of solar developers who seek to take advantage of our county’s current regulatory environment,” Ralston said. “They purport to harness the power of the sun for the good of our planet, but in reality, they are harnessing their own ability to profit for the good of themselves. And they do so without taking into account the concerns of impacted residents.”
“We bought our farm because we wanted to live in a beautiful, quiet and rural area,” she added. “If we wanted to live next to an industrial plant, we wouldn’t have picked Raccoon Ford. ... We love Culpeper and that’s why we will always fight to preserve it. We want progress, but not at the cost of landowners.”
The group seeks “a constructive partnership and dialogue with the board” and appreciated Tuesday’s opportunity to share its ideas, Ralston said.
“But let me be clear,” she said. “When it comes to the Cricket Solar development project, this just isn’t a bright idea.”
Concerned Citizens doesn’t oppose solar energy, but projects must be implemented responsibly with proper zoning, Ralston said.
The group “would absolutely love to see the county advance proposals such as rooftop solar panels for households and commercial properties in the business district,” she said.
The project’s opponents are just starting their campaign against it, Ralston said.
She said the developer’s proposal would strain the water supply, erode soil and strip land; impact historic preservation; provide a questionable economic benefit; undermine local residents’ property values; and pose health and safety problems in the form of more traffic, congestion and noise.
Culpeper resident Karen Boushie said that history and rural character contribute to the county’s tourism economy of $42 million per year, a resource formed by hundreds of people’s unique experiences.
Culpeper’s award-winning trolley tours are one such example, serving residents as well as visitors.
“Such experiences give local citizens ... pride in the area they call home and deliver special memories for visitors who return to or recommend that others visit Culpeper County,” Boushie said.
“Earlier this year, a man drove to Raccoon Ford from Colorado to walk in the footsteps of his great grandfather, a Union soldier who fought and was captured at the ford,” she told the board. “Imagine the disappointment of the visitor from Colorado if he had arrived to find Raccoon Ford surrounded by an industrial power plant.”
The Cricket Solar utility-scale project will destroy the Raccoon Ford area’s historic value and character, Boushie said.
The rolling landscape along Algonquin Trail, part of which is designated a county scenic road, is essentially unchanged from its appearance during the Civil War, when Raccoon Ford saw more crossings than any other wartime river crossing, she said. Lined by large farms and several antebellum plantation houses, it is where the Battle of Morton’s Ford occurred on Feb. 6, 1864.
The solar project’s pile driving will imperil the foundations of historic homes, encroach on historic St. Paul’s Church, limit study and preservation of the Morton’s Ford battlefield and hamper archaeological study of earlier settlements, Boushie said.
She implored the board members to recognize the value of the Racoon Ford area’s cultural history and deny the conditional use permit sought by Cricket Solar.
Troy Ralston expressed great concern about Culpeper and state policies that allow industrial-sized solar projects on agriculturally zoned land
“A utility-scale industrial project should be built on land zoned for industrial use,” he said. “The first word in real estate is location, location, location. Who the heck wants to live in a home located in the midst of hundreds of thousands of solar panels?”
Christopher Boushie said he fears the project’s impacts on wildlife, as it strips and grades farmland, woodland and hedgerows. The development will block corridors wild animals need to move around, harm wetlands and silt waterways, he said.
“It’s not ‘green,’ ” Boushie said. “It will have significant negative impacts.”