Update: April 15, 2019
The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors approved three special use permits for the solar farm. The project will go forward, despite complaints from local residents.
Tens of millions of dollars in revenue, nearly 900 new jobs and fighting climate change. That’s what residents of Spotsylvania could get with a massive new solar farm, but despite those positives, it’s become an issue for conservative media to complain about.
The farm is the brainchild of energy company sPower. With 1.8 million solar panels spread out across 10 square miles, it would be the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains. Supporters of the project argue that it would not only boost the local economy with tax revenue and jobs, but also be a net positive for the environment.
This sounds like a win-win, yet the project faces an uncertain future.
The surge in public outcry came after the story was featured on Fox News, where host Sean Hannity linked the project to the Green New Deal, even though the project predated the deal floated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
On the ground, the backlash has been led by residents of the Fawn Lake gated community, who are concerned that the project would ruin the rural quality of the area and cause their property values to plummet.
The opposition has found themselves an ally in State Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-17), who is against the project because he believes that solar interests are hoarding profits while enjoying tax breaks.
Other opponents say the technology is bad for the environment, due to the loss of acres of carbon-reducing trees. But sPower estimates that the project would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 964,239 acres of forests sucking carbon from the atmosphere. The project itself would take up only 6,350 acres.
The Rappahanock Group Sierra Club recently came out in favor of the project. Richard Eggeling and Bill Johnson, the co-chair and vice chair of the group, argued in an op-ed that the solar farm would not only help the local economy and environment, but actually be better for the residents’ quality of life.
If the project falls through, the county stands to lose hundreds of jobs and millions in revenue. The current landowner, a timber company that logs the land, would only contribute $1 million in tax revenue, as opposed to the $17.6 million that the farm would generate.
Underscoring all of this is the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. By the estimates of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we may have only a decade to significantly reduce carbon emissions to avoid the worst of global warming.
This means that solar projects are all but guaranteed to become the norm, and they’ll likely bring with them more battles like the one in Spotsylvania.
It remains to be seen what happens in Spotsylvania. The state has already approved the project, but the County’s Board of Supervisors has repeatedly delayed a vote amidst protests from the project’s opponents.