Culpeper County Supervisors denied the first conditional-use application for a utility-scale solar project during Tuesday’s meeting, leaving one supervisor wondering what message the vote sent to future applicants.
The voice vote came after nearly three hours of presentations by the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, the project’s developer—Cypress Creek Renewables, and a raucous public hearing concerning the Culpeper North Solar, a 178-acre solar farm in the Stevensburg district.
Around 10:30 p.m., Supervisor Gary Deal made a motion to deny approval. Deal said local solar and renewable energy will help attract hi-tech businesses to the county, including data centers, which are looking to locate in areas with renewable energy sources. A single data center, he said, can add $5 million to a county’s coffers annually.
“However, I am not for solar sprawl and I am all about very stringent conditions related to landscaping, buffering and screen,” Deal said, adding when the board decided on a solar policy there was much conversation and agreement related to location. Deal said the county’s Route 3 corridor is ideal, given it is located close to a major electric transmission line and has “blackjack” soils.
The Culpeper North Solar proposal site was more than one mile from a major transmission line and more than 10 percent of the soil is considered good.
“This project for me is outside the limits of where I think we intended for solar,” he said.
For Supervisor Jack Frasier, the lack of answers by representatives of Cypress Creek Renewables led to his no vote.
During the company’s presentation, Frasier asked a series of technical questions ranging from the panels’ toxicity, to construction and environmental regulations to tax credits. The two representatives, Parker Shea and Michael Whalen, stumbled to answer many of Frasier’s questions.
“There are so many questions and I am not sure that all of them can be answered,” Frasier said when another Supervisor suggested tabling the vote for 60 days.
The postponement was suggested by Sue Hansohn, the sole supervisor who voted against denying the conditional-use permit.
“I find it unfortunate we didn’t give [Cypress Creek Renewables] the time to find answers to our questions,” she said Wednesday afternoon.
Some of the technical questions, she said, “may have been answered when the company submitted it site plan.”
Hansohn is afraid Tuesday’s vote could deter renewable energy companies from looking at Culpeper County for future development sites. She explained that a number of counties throughout the state are welcoming alternative energy producers.
“Solar companies are going to go to counties that are pro renewable energy,” she said. “We’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot” if continuing to vote down solar farms.
A call and email to Jeff McKay, director of public relations for Cypress Creek Renewables, as to the company’s next move went unanswered Wednesday.
About 20 people participated in the public comments portion of the meeting, the vast majority against approving the permit.
Key among their concerns was just how green are those solar panels. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, antimony and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel, according to Forbes magazine.
The Culpeper North Solar was just one of a few large-scale solar conditional-use permits headed to the Supervisors in upcoming months. In October, the permit for a 1,000 acre project in the Banta is up for a vote.