Urban Grid planning large solar farm near Stephens City

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solar farm

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, June 9 — The energy company that proposed two solar farms in Page County just received support from the Frederick County Planning Commission to build a large solar facility near Stephens City.

On June 3, Frederick County planners voted unanimously to recommend approval of a conditional use permit application submitted by Richmond-based Urban Grid on behalf of Foxglove Solar LLC of Stevensville, Md., according to a June 5 report in The Winchester Star.

When Urban Grid presented proposals in Page County in 2019, they submitted plans for a 100-megawatt solar farm on 559 acres north of Luray under the corporate name of Cape Solar LLC; a 20-megawatt solar farm on about 340 acres along Dam Acres Road near Stanley was submitted under the name of Dogwood Solar LLC.

While Cape Solar was voted down in a 3-3 vote of the Page County Board of Supervisors, Dogwood Solar received approval last year by a 4-2 vote. Members of the Page County Planning Commission voted 6-4 to recommend denial of both projects.

Cape Solar, the larger of the two solar farms, was projected to generate power for about 25,000 households in the Mid-Atlantic region during peak output.

The proposed solar farm near Stephens City would sit on 669 acres, but the solar panels, access roads, equipment, fencing and landscaping would only occupy about 370 acres, according to The Star. The site is projected to generate 140 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, according to the report, enough to power more than 11,500 homes.

The electricity will be transferred to the adjacent 130-kilovolt power line and then to a regional power grid that serves 13 states and Washington, D.C.

If approved by the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, construction of the solar farm near Stephens City would begin next year and be completed in early 2022.

Last fall, Governor Ralph Northam laid out the state’s renewable energy goals at the Virginia Clean Energy Summit through “lead by example” targets:

  • Procure at least 30 percent of the electricity consumed by agencies and executive branch institutions from renewable energy sources by 2022;
  • Power 30 percent of Virginia’s total electric system with renewable energy by 2030;
  • Power 100 percent of the state’s electricity from carbon-free sources such as wind, nuclear and solar by 2050.

Recognizing the potential for future solar farm applications being submitted in Page County, the board of supervisors has tasked the county planning commission with developing guidelines for such facilities. However, those efforts have gotten bogged down in line-by-line debate at the subcommittee level — and supervisors are losing their patience.

“We just don’t want to hold everything else up,” Chairman Morgan Phenix said at the board’s May 19 meeting.

The county hired the Berkley Group as a consultant to help with drafting a solar ordinance, but the process has been slow — and then completed halted by the public shutdown that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The committee does not feel comfortable not doing it in person because of the amount of detail,” county administrator Amity Moler told the supervisors last month. “The Berkley Group was supposed to come in April, but they canceled [because of COVID-19].”

On May 19, the need for the consultant’s help with other areas of the county code dealing with land use became evident and two requests from local business interests were handled in different ways.

“We could be stuck on solar for five years [working through a new ordinance],” Dist. 1 supervisor Keith Guzy said at the May meeting. “There are so many other things that need to be addressed as well.”

The board asked the county administrator to set up a meeting in the near future with the Page County Planning Commission and the Berkley Group to “reset the agenda” and priorities for the consultant.

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