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May 11, 2021

Bealeton solar farm plan faces skeptical supervisors

Photo/Dynamic Energy
Dynamic Energy LLC proposes a solar farm along Route 17 south of Bealeton — similar to this one in Greenpoint, N.Y.
I understand the need for renewable energy, and I don’t have a problem with that, per se. But when it has to come at the expense of potentially our rural lands . . . I think it’s a questionable trade-off. And that’s why I have reservations.
— Supervisor Holder Trumbo
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Fauquier’s board of supervisors Thursday will have the final say on whether a proposed five-megawatt solar farm just south of Bealeton substantially complies with the county’s comprehensive plan.

By a 3-2 vote after a public hearing last month, Fauquier’s planning commission determined that Dynamic Energy LLC’s proposal to construct the facility on 40 acres of active farmland along Route 17 doesn’t substantially conform to the document’s long-term vision of the rural site’s use.

The board will take up the matter at its May 13 meeting, which will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren Green Building in Warrenton.

Unlike the planning commission, the board review doesn’t involve a public hearing. But the public may comment on the application during citizens’ time.

Without a supervisors’ favorable comprehensive plan compliance ruling, Dynamic Energy’s proposed Bealeton Marsh Solar project effectively would die.

The project would generate enough electricity to power about 1,000 homes, according Wayne, Pa.-based Dynamic Energy.

Opponents who spoke at the planning commission’s April 15 public hearing argued that prime agricultural soils put to the proposed use would result in “farmland lost forever.”

The planning commission appeared split over that fundamental issue.

But a Dynamic Energy representative told the commission that a bond would ensure that the facility would be dismantled — after it had outlived its usefulness — and that the 40-acre site would be restored to its pre-solar farm state.

In telephone interviews Monday, three supervisors voiced misgivings about the conversion of farmland for solar facility use.

“I understand the need for renewable energy, and I don’t have a problem with that per se,” Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) said. “But, when it has to come at the expense of potentially our rural lands . . . I think it’s a questionable trade-off. And that’s why I have reservations.”

Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) wondered whether approval of solar facility uses of farmland could get out of control.

“The overarching concern is you don’t want prime ag land to be taken over by solar, because we’re an agricultural community,” Ms. McDaniel said. “We want to retain that. There’s concern if you open the floodgates, it could happen more and more, which reduces our ability to have that critical mass to have enough agricultural land to make a viable community.”

Supervisor Chris Granger (Center) expressed no strong feelings about Dynamic
Energy’s Bealeton proposal, which would use 40 ares of an approximately 170-acre property.

But, “I think I skew a little towards not being real thrilled about turning (rural agricultural) properties into solar farms,” Mr. Granger said.

Supervisor Rick Gerhardt, whose Cedar Run District includes the proposed solar farm site, and Supervisor Chris Butler (Lee) couldn’t be reached for comment.

If the supervisors overrule the planning commission, Dynamic Energy would need to obtain a special exception permit to construct the project. The special exception review process involves public hearings before the commission and the board.

The commission serves as an advisory panel the to the supervisors, which has final authority.

Established in 2007, Dynamic Energy describes itself as a “leading full-service provider of solar energy solutions to commercial and institutional customers,” with 200 projects completed, according to the company website.

Developed and owned by Dominion Virginia Power, Fauquier’s first solar farm on 125 acres east of Remington began operating in 2017.

The 20-megawatt solar plant can produce electricity to power 5,000 homes.

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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