Planning commission recommends denial of Cape Solar application by unanimous vote

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Dominion Energy 125 acre solar farm Remington va
Dominion Energy's 125-acre solar farm in Remington, Va.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, March 8 — The Page County Planning Commission received a rambunctious round of applause Tuesday night after unanimously voting to recommend denial of a special use permit for the Cape Solar project.

District 1 representative Catherine Grech made the motion for denial, citing “adverse impacts” of the proposed 100-megawatt solar electricity generating facility proposed on a 559-acre site along Route 340 just north of Luray.

The site of the proposed Cape Solar project is zoned for agricultural use. The industrial-scale solar facility would sit on the east side of Route 340 near the intersection with Hinton Road, with proposed entrances off both Hinton Road and Route 340 North. The Page County Zoning Ordinance requires electric facilities operating above 40 kilovolts to have a special use permit.

The commission’s decision to recommend denial on Tuesday night followed 33 speakers, who all voiced opposition to the Cape Solar project during a public hearing.

“I’m humbled to be here tonight,” Grech told the crowd in attendance at the Page County Government Center. “You’ve humbled me with your comments…you’ve done your homework.”

Many of the arguments voiced Tuesday night against the solar farm project were the same as they’ve been since the first application was submitted for Cape Solar in 2018. While a smaller solar farm further south near Dam Acres called Dogwood Solar was approved, the larger Cape Solar project was rejected by the Page County Board of Supervisors. One of the main reasons for denial, both then and now, is due to the size of the proposed industrial-scale solar facility.

During the public hearing, speakers also addressed environmental concerns if solar panels are damaged, loss of farmland, erosion and sediment control, disruption of wildlife, potential for sinkholes in karst topography, potential contamination of drinking water…and the most common argument — it’s potential damage to the landscape and natural beauty in an area that thrives off tourism driven by the natural landscape.

A representative of Urban Grid — a Richmond-based solar developer who submitted the application to the county for a special use permit to operate Cape Solar — told the commission that the concerns of the public could be mitigated. Views from Route 340 could be blocked with proper plantings of trees and vegetation, he stated, and any soil and erosion concerns would be regulated through applicable permits specific to that issue.

The Urban Grid rep was the first speaker during the public hearing, citing millions of dollars that would flow into the county through various taxes, fees or revenue sharing depending on which model the county agreed to moving forward. He estimated the county’s revenue over the projected 35-year life of the project at between $5 million to $7 million.

The solar development spokesman touted a long list of benefits to the Cape Solar project, such as less demand on public services and utilities than a residential subdivision, an increase in real estate tax on the land, job creation during construction and future maintenance, no daily traffic, and the option of reclaiming the land for farmland if the project ever concluded or was ceased.

Urban Grid’s arguments didn’t resonate with Grech, who has long opposed the project and had her motion prepared to submit it as soon as the lengthy public hearing ended. Following no discussion by the planning commission — who held a March 1 work session to work through final details and potential changes to the special use permit — all four members voted to recommend denial of Urban Grid’s permit application to the Page County Board of Supervisors.

With the planning commission serving as an advisory agency, the board of supervisors will have the final say over the Cape Solar application, which they denied once almost four years ago. While there have been some changes the second time around, the footprint of the project (559 acres) and the location (Roger Houser’s property) remains the same as it was in 2018.

Following the approval of the Dogwood Solar project and the initial denial of the Cape Solar project, the county previously had a moratorium in place on any new solar farm applications until a solar ordinance was adopted for Page County. The planning commission spent two years developing such an ordinance, including thousands of dollars spent on consultant The Berkley Group, only to have the proposed solar ordinance that limited future solar projects to a footprint of 200 acres voted down, 4-2, by the supervisors.

Urban Grid resubmitted the Cape Solar application on Dec. 11, 2020 and the county accepted it (by processing the filing fee) even though the moratorium on new solar farm applications was still in place. Since the application had been processed, the county was forced to deal with it through the normal process. So, the original moratorium was repealed and a new moratorium on future solar applications was put in place in November, which allowed the Cape Solar permit to move forward through the planning commission.

The issue is now in the hands of the board of supervisors, who have up to one year to act on the planning commission’s recommendation.



New moratorium placed on future solar farm applications after Cape Solar mix up

Vaughan submits two late motions to waive moratorium on Cape Solar application

Urban Grid planning comment period, public meeting for Dogwood Solar project

200 acres better than 20,000…some Virginia localities running to solar money

Supervisors ease citizens concerns over future solar farms with ‘wait and see’ approach to growing industry

Supervisors keep orbiting solar ordinance, but can’t land on agreement amid accusations

Local solar farm issues on hold

Urban Grid planning large solar farm near Stephens City

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  1. I was at the meeting last night and I was so proud of my community! The board was very warm, kind, heard and embraced all comments. We were very happy with the decision.

  2. Thank you for the coverage. A few additional points: the overflow crowd filled every seat, with standing room in the room and the hallways, as well as people watching on zoom from another room. Everyone was opposed to the plant. UG provided renderings of how visual mitigation might look. Fortunately, an attendee had taken pictures of a nearby UG project that shows scraggly, small, half-dead trees and weeds, with the industrial solar plant clearly visible in the background. This is the mitigation strategy in real life. UG showed no images to illustrate the effects on views from Skyline Drive that can’t be mitigated. UG’s valuation of revenues to the county in no way compensates for the potential loss of tourism revenue and the potential for expansion of residential properties–Page County is becoming sought after as a place to live, now that remote work patterns are widespread. The issue of the karst topography, mentioned by 3 speakers, bears special evaluation: disruption of that fragile topography, along with flooding and run off traditionally associated with solar, can have massive consequences on wells of area residents. Hurricane Fran resulted in one house uprooted from its foundation, floating down 340N. Will we see similar effects from increased flooding from the plant? Could that major road be washed out by flooding associated with the solar factory? The county needs to do its own research on geological suitability of areas for solar. Nationwide, too many plants are associated with major flooding. The county needs to develop its own economic impact study to really understand how different types of industry affect the county. And the county desperately needs to develop a good solar ordinance. No one is against solar that is appropriately sized and sited, and appropriately regulated.

    • Great wrap up, Cathy Herbert. Thank you for yourthorough study and research and for sharing your findings with the county.

  3. Congratulations are in order,as well as our heartfelt thanks to the PC for listening to the citizens of Page and acting to protect this lovely valley from the blight this massive industrial facility will bring here.

  4. Thank you for covering this issue that has been going on for 4 years now!

    A few things on the article that should be cleared up for your readers: 
    The Cape project is NOT 4 miles from town – according to GIS – it is 560 FEET from the town limits.

    This is the property of Roger Houser (not Housden).

    The denied Cape project was resubmitted (during the moratorium) on Dec 11, 2020 days BEFORE the public hearing on the solar ordinance which was on Dec 15, 2020. It was not publicly known at the time of the hearing there was a new application. 
    At the Dec 15, 2020 meeting, when staff was asked,   they did not acknowledge any recent applications. The citizens found out later through FOIA. 

    On February 2, 2021the BOS voted (and denied) the solar ordinance which was written by The Berkley group (paid with tax dollars), had been approved by our Planning Commission and backed by the citizens via written comments of support (during restrictions no one could attend meetings).
    The vote on the solar ordinance was almost 2 MONTHS after the 2nd application for the cape project was submitted to the county (not before). 

    Last night the citizens came to show their opposition to the cape project. Many people thought since it was denied once it was a done deal and had no idea it was back (and bigger than before). 

    Thank you for mentioning the 33 speakers but please note there were over 80 people that came to the meeting. The exact number is unknown due to not having adequate space for the attendees to be in the meeting room, there were people standing in the room and in the hallway, and an overflow room. At least 30 comments/letters were submitted in writing AGAINST and a petition with 181 signatures was submitted OPPOSING the project! 

    Please acknowledge that many citizens are working diligently to preserve and protect farmland AGAINST PREDATORY INDUSTRIAL SOLAR in PAGE COUNTY! 

    I am grateful to the Planning Commissioners for their unanimous vote to deny this project. 

    I hope that the BOS will follow the PC recommendation and will also deny the Cape project for a second time.

    Beth Snider 

    • Thank you Beth and others who have stayed diligent, researched truth and facts and prevailed. We are hopeful that the BOS will follow the majority of their voters’ preference and best interest in this matter.

      • “The truth and the facts.” What a joke.
        The truth is that when fossil fuels are eliminated, eg. natural gas, which produces over 60% of all electric power in Virginia, what are you going to rely on? Well, don’t sit there, answer.
        And then there’s the “truth” that any solar power produced in Page would go somewhere else. Do these people vote? Horrors. Look at the North Anna plant. Do you think it’s there just for Louisa County? No. Dominion’s area crosses through Page all the way over to WVa.
        Page has two working hydroelectric plants. None of you even know that I bet. Together, they produce about 2.5 megawatts. Are they acceptable because that power stays in page? WTF? Sorry, it doesn’t stay in Page, they’re connected to the vast power grid. It goes wherever the grid needs it to meet demand.
        Rappahannock, Madison, Culpepper, Orange, Augusta, Shenandoah, Greene counties around us don’t have power plants. Let’s be like these slackers and let somebody else do the heavy lifting. Let’s get with it. The future is now. Not tomorrow.
        Maybe because of the public good that is involved, the government could mandate all 95 Virginia counties produce a certain amount electric power, or they get brown outs until they do. Do you want that? Brown is supposed to be in the toilet, not in every room of the house.
        BTW. The planning commission hasn’t got any more backbone than a chocolate eclair.

        • your comments are both a bit snarky and very misleading. the power produced by any generating facility goes into the grid. you cannot specify WHICH actual watts go where. it’s like pouring a cup of water into a full bucket,then trying to reclaim the exact same water molecules you poured in. what DOES happen,however,is that huge corporations purchase (at extra cost) Renewable Energy Credits…so they can claim that they are ‘using renewable energy’. in other words, it’s a smoke and mirrors trick.
          as far as your ‘idea’ to have every county produce a certain amount of renewable energy, you must then require each and every county to produce the same percentage of food ,or else they get to go hungry until they do. your ‘logic’ is ridiculous,and you’re not very smart.

    • It has now come to light that the application for Cape was accepted because the county attorney had written an unenforceable moratorium. Robert Janney delivered the application, county staff said they couldn’t accept it, and Mr. Janney informed the staff member that the county’s moratorium would never hold up in court. The county attorney, who had written the unenforceable moratorium, told her to accept the application but not forward to the Planning Commission. Although, as Ms. Snider notes, the application was received on Dec 11, the county representative stated, at the BOS meeting on Dec 15, that no application had been received. The supervisors were not informed of the application until January 12. We deserve answers as to why county representatives did not seem to be working for the benefit of the county.

  5. No one is against responsible solar development, appropriately scaled, sited, and managed. This site has the potential to severely damage our tourist industry and is planned for karst geology, which is very fragile. Mess with it, and you damage other people’s wells. Gov Youngkin expected to sign recently introduced legislation that will protect communities from predatory practices by solar industrial companies. This particular company owns a NASCAR race team, so maybe they should start the idea of accountabiliy regarding power consumption at home.

    • Ms. Herbert. Thanks for bringing up the issue of karst geology. What you mean is that you believe solar farms leak something that will be absorbed by soil and proceed further down through the soft substrate to contaminate well water.
      Rest assured. Solar panels don’t leak anything. They don’t pollute. They also don’t attract bedbugs, kill our feathered friends, create acid rain, or any other fake concerns you may have heard. Regarding NASCAR, do you drive a car, or does someone else drive you around?

      • Well, you obviously know more than the industrial solar company AES, which has written in a published report that the best way to deal with karst is to avoid it. Disruptions to karst, as noted in Virginia’s guide to stormwater and run off, can be catastrophic to area wells, at a distance from the site. It’s not about leakage, it’s about disruption of a very fragile geography. And it is pathetic that a company that talks about its commitment to the environment and saving the planet had a gas-guzzling NASCAR team.

  6. Well, you obviously know more than the industrial solar company AES, which has written in a published report that the best way to deal with karst is to avoid it. Disruptions to karst, as noted in Virginia’s guide to stormwater and run off, can be catastrophic to area wells, at a distance from the site. It’s not about leakage, it’s about disruption of a very fragile geography. And it is pathetic that a company that talks about its commitment to the environment and saving the planet had a gas-guzzling NASCAR team.

    • Your hero John Kerry flies to destinations across the globe in a gas guzzling jet aircraft. He’s been recently been lecturing on the dangers of emissions. What comes out of his mouth is a deadly emission also.

    • Gotta laugh…The document in the link you provided cites advoidance of karst terrain as the best mitigation strategy.

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