Dominion apologizes for solar runoff

Robert Marks, who farms on both sides of Bickley Road, points at a stormwater pond on a solar panel development owned by Dominion Energy. He said problems with the pond have led to several instances of flooding on his side of the property line.

Dominion Energy apologized for allowing stormwater runoff from a solar panel development to once again affect neighboring farm properties.

Sarah Marshall, a Dominion representative, acknowledged the ongoing problems and admitted to the Louisa County Board of Supervisors at their June 7 meeting that the company had not communicated well with neighbors.

“There are members of the county that have not been given the attention regarding the Belcher Solar facility that you, the neighbors and Dominion would expect,” she said. “We will do better and that starts now … It should have started a year ago.”

Construction of the solar project began in spring 2020. Rainstorms during the summer that followed led to repeated complaints from neighbors about stormwater. In August, the supervisors rejected a proposal by a solar company to add more panels on a nearby farm, in part because of anger about the water runoff.

Dominion was fined $50,000 in March of this year by the state Department of Environmental Quality for its failure to prevent stormwater runoff from entering tributaries of Harris Creek. 

A storm last Thursday dumped heavy rain on the solar facility, located near Bickley and Waldrop Church roads. The weather led to increased turbidity, or sediment, in the company’s stormwater ponds and some of the stormwater runoff escaped onto the adjacent farms.

“Though the facility performed as designed, that’s not an excuse,” Marshall said. “That’s not going to make the neighbors happy.”

While most areas of the solar site are well-vegetated to reduce soil erosion, there are places where “we have been struggling,” she said.

Robert Marks grazes cattle on land that adjoins the solar field. He said the June 3 storm flooded the ground on his side of the property line, just as occurred several times after rains in the past year.

“It looks like a natural disaster down there,” he said. “It’s still muddy and the water is pouring out red.”

Marks said that he has been disappointed with lack of communication of late from Dominion and DEQ officials. He said he and some neighbors may collect water samples from swollen sections of Bickley Creek, which flows through their land, and send them to a lab for evaluation.  

“I don’t think it’s right that we have to do it – we didn’t cause the problem,” Marks said. “All the cows have to drink is red, muddy water.”

Dominion is working with a vendor to test soil samples to determine what grasses will hold water better on the solar property. But since grass doesn’t grow quickly, the company is also limiting water levels in the stormwater ponds that adjoin the affected neighbors.

“We’ll be maintaining those at a low level until establishment of the vegetation,” Marshall said. 

They may also install berms to further control water runoff, though it’s not required by their DEQ permit, and implement flocculation to separate sediment particles from the water in the ponds.

She said Dominion will reach out to individual neighbors in the near future to discuss these plans.

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