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April 16, 2021

County planners reject Bealeton solar farm

Photo/Dynamic Energy LLC
The applicant, Dynamic Energy LLC completed this 5.4-megawatt solar array in Greenpoint, N.Y., in 2016.
I have a real problem with taking good farmland for this use. Unless I hear something in the public hearing tonight that’s going to change my mind, I’m not in favor of it.
— Planning Commissioner John Meadows (Lee District)
Public Hearing
• Topic: Applicant seeks comprehensive plan compliance review to construct a 5-megawatt “utility-scale,” solar energy generation facility on 40 acres of a 170-acre farm along Route 17 just south of Bealeton.

• When: Thursday, April 15.

• Where: Warren Green Building, 10 Hotel St., Warrenton.

• Agency: Fauquier County Planning Commission.

• Action: Voting 3-2, the five-member commission determined that the proposal doesn’t comply the county’s comprehensive plan.

• Length: About 17 minutes.

• Speakers: Five, with three opposed to and two in support of the project.

• Issue: Loss of active farmland during the estimated 25-year life of the proposed solar operation.

• Applicant: Dynamic Energy LLC, Wayne, Pa.

• Landowners: Eddie and Sheila Bennett, Sterling, Va.

• Next: The planning commission serves as an advisory panel to the county board of supervisors, which has final authority. The board May 13 will decide if the project complies with the comprehensive plan. Its review requires no public hearing.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A Pennsylvania-based company Thursday night lost Round One in its quest to build a five-megawatt solar farm near Bealeton.

After about a 17-minute public hearing April 15, a divided Fauquier County Planning Commission determined that Dynamic Energy LLC’s proposal to construct the facility on 40 acres of active farmland doesn’t comply with the comprehensive plan.

Though the planners’ 3-2 vote represents setback for Dynamic Energy, the county board of supervisors will consider the project at its May 13 meeting and decide whether to endorse or overrule the commission’s action.

The supervisors’ review doesn’t involve a public hearing.

Without a favorable comprehensive plan compliance ruling, Dynamic Energy’s proposed Bealeton Marsh Solar project dies.

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

Five people spoke during Thursday night’s public hearing, with three who opposed and two company representatives who explained the project.

Marshall resident Chris Cloud told the commission that he supports solar and other renewable energy technology.

But, he objects to solar fields that use productive agricultural land.

“Farmland lost is lost forever,” said Mr. Cloud, who believes solar panels should be mounted on every available rooftop.

Speaking virtually to the planning commission, Piedmont Environmental Council Field Representative Julie Bolthouse echoed his concerns.

The project would remove about 40 acres of “prime agricultural soils” and farmland from production in an area where property owners have made significant strides to preserve such properties, Ms. Bolthouse said.

“We all know the mantra, farmland lost is farmland lost forever,” she said. “In this case, the argument is being made that it is only temporarily lost for 30 years.

“But, 30 years is a long time to go without active agriculture and the grading, compaction. And topsoil removal that often happens at these sites could make future agricultural use of this land unfeasible anyway.”

Dynamic Energy Project Management Director Pat Hastings suggested that removal of the solar facility would result in minimal land disturbance that the farm “easily” could be restored to its original condition.

“Everything, I think, that goes into the ground, is easily taken up, including the (solar panel) racking, the underground wiring, the access road and ancillary equipment,” Mr. Hastings said.

A secured bond would cover the cost of restoring the site to its previous condition, regardless of who owns operation or land, he said.

> Document at bottom of story

The proposed solar facility would occupy about 40 acres of a 170-acre farm.

“We kind of look at (the solar project) as essentially giving that 40 acres of land a 25-year rest or recovery period,” Mr. Hastings told the commission.

Planning commission member Matthew Smith’s Cedar Run District includes the proposed site.

“This is a tough one, because of the (loss of) ag land” issue, Mr. Smith said moments before Thursday’s vote. “Everything else fits really nice. The main reason I like it is because of the small scale.”

In this case, he rejected the “farmland lost is lost farmland lost forever” argument.

“I don’t agree with that, because of the way these things are being installed and will be removed and the land will be just like it was before they put it in,” Mr. Smith said.

He and Planning Commission member Bob Lee (Marshall) believe the proposal complies with the county’s comprehensive plan.

Among commission members, only Mr. Smith commented on the project’s merits moments before Thursday night’s vote.

But during the commission’s work session Thursday morning, John Meadows explained why he expected to oppose the project and Mr. Lee outlined his support for it.

“I have a real problem with taking good farmland for this use,” said Mr. Meadows, who represents Lee District. “Unless I hear something in the public hearing tonight that’s going to change my mind, I’m not in favor of it.”

Mr. Lee said he liked the project’s size and viewed it as an educational opportunity.

“I’m really pleased that it’s 40 acres, rather than 1,000 acres,” he said. “So I think the scale is important . . . . I suspect that, as we go forward, we’ll learn more about these things.”

If the supervisors on May 13 overrule the planning commission, Dynamic Energy would seek 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.

BealetonSolarCOMR_PCreport_... by Fauquier Now

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