A proposal to install solar panels on 225 acres near Apple Grove Road and Jefferson Highway (Route 33) was rejected by the Louisa County Board of Supervisors because it would not shield the panels enough from the view of adjoining neighbors.
The 5-1 vote on Aug. 3 means Solunesco cannot come back with a new conditional use permit application for one year. Seth Maugham, the company’s representative, tried at the last moment to defer his proposal to the next meeting. But Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District) had already made a motion and obtained a second, so the vote proceeded.
Board Chairman Bob Babyok (Green Springs District) was the only member to support SolUnesco’s request. Supervisor Eric Purcell (Louisa District) abstained from this and a separate vote in favor of a much larger solar development near Northeast Creek Reservoir because he and his father own the latter project.
Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District) led the board in its opposition to the Apple Grove plan, which included tree buffers of 200 feet along Route 33, but as little as 25 feet along some neighbors’ properties.
“I won’t support any buffer this minimal,” Adams said. “One of the main issues I have is that the buffers be consistent throughout the county.”
Adams also said he was concerned that the panels would be installed very close to a small cemetery on the property, and asked Solunesco to contribute money to help fund fiber-optic broadband for area residents. He noted that Charles Purcell, co-owner of the Northeast Creek Reservoir solar project, had committed to a similar donation.
Maugham said the 25-foot buffer would only apply in cases where neighbors agreed to it. Most neighbors would see a tree buffer of at least 100 feet. He said the small size of the project makes it difficult to provide a uniform buffer around the entire periphery of the site.
As for broadband, he said he could provide a donation for broadband, but it would have to be much less money than Purcell agreed to.
“A lot of the neighbors are very bullish on this project,” Maugham said.
Indeed, a number of neighbors spoke at the meeting about how Maugham had met with them and made efforts to address their concerns. However, other neighbors said they were worried about the view of the solar panels disrupting the rural environment.
Confederate monument and portrait
With counties elsewhere in Virginia considering voter referenda on what to do about Confederate monuments on courthouse lawns, the issue came up during the public comment period at the supervisors’ meeting.
William Shifflett, a Louisa resident, asked whether the Louisa Strong committee recently formed in response to the protests and unrest around racial injustice is having conversations behind closed doors about the monument in front of Louisa Circuit Court and the portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee in the courtroom. The committee, initially formed by the supervisors and now independent, includes the Louisa NAACP, two board members, some county staff and representatives of local law enforcement and the schools.
“The committee is supposed to be balanced and fair,” said Shifflett, who was one of three residents who spoke in support of the monument. Shifflett commented that the committee does not appear to have representatives from groups that support Confederate heritage. “What are you guys doing about it?”
Babyok said the committee wasn’t formed to address the monument or portrait and no one has yet brought those issues directly to members’ attention.
“The whole purpose was to build unity, to try to raise up any issues before they could become an incident,” he said.
Tammy Purcell, also a Louisa resident, told the board she hoped the committee, and the board as a whole, would address the monument and portrait. She said the Confederate symbols do not belong on the court property.
“People are speaking up and asking you to address these issues. I hope that you will have the courage to do so,” she said.
The supervisors voted 7-0 to pass an emergency ordinance that allows construction contractors to start work as early as 6 a.m. A public hearing would be necessary to make the provision permanent.
Adams said the change is needed during the warmest months of the summer as a safety measure to allow contractors to get their outdoor work done by early afternoon, when the temperature reaches its highest point.