The Louisa County Planning Commission held public hearings but took no action at its June 11 meeting on solar farms proposed west of the town of Louisa and in Apple Grove.
Commissioners want more clarity on specific conditions the developers will be held to before they recommend the projects to the board of supervisors. A key sticking point, as was the case with a previous solar proposal, is how vegetated buffers will shield the solar panels from the view of neighboring landowners.
The more controversial of the two projects appears to be Belcher Solar’s proposal to install solar panels on two properties. One borders Waldrop Church and Tisdale roads; the other is just west of Harris Creek Road. In between the two is a solar farm now under construction, which Dominion Energy acquired in 2019. The company intends to purchase a share of the new project, too, according to Sarah Marshall, a company spokeswoman.
“This is a neighborhood, with farmland and children, and no one is excited about this,” Charletta Anderson, who lives on Tisdale Road, told the commission at the June 11 hearing. “This will have many effects you have never heard of, and they’re all negative, unfortunately. It has a very negative connotation as far as whether we matter.”
Five other neighbors also spoke against the project. Two, including one of the owners of the land to be developed, provided comments in support.
Commissioner George Goodwin (Cuckoo District) said Belcher Solar should have submitted separate applications for the two properties, since they are somewhat distant from each other and have different neighbors.
The other project is on the northwest side of the corner of Jefferson Highway (Route 33) and Apple Grove Road. Goodwin praised SolUnesco, the developer, for reaching out to individual neighbors about appropriate buffers and other impacts.
Much of the perimeter at the Apple Grove location has recently been clear-cut, so it won’t be possible to effectively screen it in the first few years of operation, said Seth Maughan, a SolUnesco representative. He said he prefers to “let nature take its course” rather than plant a lot of trees.
Goodwin proposed to allow SolUnesco to negotiate buffers with each neighbor rather than be subject to a universal buffer minimum for the entire property, which is about 230 acres. Some neighbors want extensive buffers, while others would be happy with very little. The solar farm now under construction near Waldrop Church Road has a 150-foot vegetated buffer, of which half must be kept wooded, along its entire perimeter.
Commissioner John Disosway (Mineral District) asked whether negotiating with individual neighbors would set a precedent for future solar projects.
“I’m willing to make it a precedent if the adjacent neighbors agree to a buffer that’s less than what the county has as a standard,” Goodwin said. “[The neighbors] have named their poison, and if there’s any reduction in property value, they agree to it.”
Maughan said that might not work along Jefferson Highway, which carries heavy through traffic. Goodwin said he didn’t mean for his method to apply there.
The one neighbor at the commission hearing to dissent was Jack Manzari. He said allowing solar farms on land designated for agricultural, forestal and other rural uses, especially so close to a major road, is inappropriate.
“We have a slippery slope with our [county] comprehensive plan about maintaining farmland in Louisa,” he said. “You need to get the solar arrays in the right place.”
The commission voted 7-0 to forward a recommendation of approval for a wedding and events venue on a property in Locust Creek, near the corner of Jefferson Highway and Willow Brook Road.