By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 16 — On Tuesday afternoon, Page County posted on its Facebook page that “Urban Grid has withdrawn their special use permit application for Cape Solar effective August 16, 2022.”
A few hours earlier, Page County Zoning Administrator Tracy Clatterbuck received an email from Urban Grid’s Project Development Manager Rob Propes officially ending the four-year effort to build a 100-megawatt solar farm on 559 acres along Route 340 just north of Luray.
“Urban Grid is requesting that the Special Use Permit application for the Cape Solar, LLC project be withdrawn for consideration by the Board of Supervisors,” the Aug. 16 email from Propes reads. “Please let me know if you require any other information to formally withdraw the application.”
The Cape Solar project was initially introduced in 2018 and subsequently denied by the Page County Board of Supervisors. Urban Grid resubmitted the Cape Solar application on Dec. 11, 2020, and the county accepted it even though a moratorium on new solar farm applications was in place.
In March, the Page County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the Cape Solar application based on “adverse impacts”. The loss of agricultural land and the impact on the natural landscape — along with a host of environmental concerns voiced by citizens for four years — were among the reasons given for denial.
In June, the board of supervisors unanimously adopted a 17-page solar ordinance recommended by the planning commission that represented the culmination of years of discussions and meetings. It covers the gambit of issues related to energy-producing solar facilities, from rooftop panels on buildings to large-scale industrial operations spanning hundreds of acres. The ordinance aims to protect the interest of landowners and citizens by establishing requirements for construction, operation and decommissioning of solar facilities in Page County.
The recent approval marked the second attempt to get a solar ordinance approved by the board of supervisors. The planning commission spent two years developing such an ordinance, including thousands of dollars spent on consultant The Berkley Group, only to have the first proposed solar ordinance that limited future solar projects to a footprint of 200 acres voted down, 4-2, by the supervisors in 2020.
Despite the back-and-forth, merry-go-round cycle that has followed the Cape Solar project — the confusion over moratoriums, questions about legal advice, and the efforts to create a solar ordinance — County Administrator Amity Moler said the county does not anticipate a third attempt at Cape Solar.
“No, we do not anticipate a third application for Cape Solar,” the county administrator told Page Valley News on Wednesday. “Any new applications for solar would need to comply with the Solar Ordinance.”
A recent meeting took place between county staff and Urban Grid officials, according to Moler, that seemed to prompt the recent withdrawal of the application although “there was no specific reason given.”
“Pursuant to 15.2-2316.7 of the Code of Virginia, the applicant requested a meeting with legal counsel, staff and two Board members to discuss a solar siting agreement,” Moler stated. “As a result of the discussion regarding a potential siting agreement, Urban Grid withdrew their SUP application for Cape Solar.”
Urban Grid has yet to respond to inquiries from PVN submitted on Wednesday about the reasons for the withdrawal.
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