Solar fields are rejected

Charlotta Anderson, of Tisdale Road, holds a rock she said fell off a truck and landed in her yard. The truck was headed to a nearby solar construction site.

A groundswell of opposition from residents to a proposed solar energy development on former agricultural land led the Louisa County Board of Supervisors to reject the project at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The 703 acres of solar panels would have been on two sites, one at the corner of Waldrop Church and Tisdale roads and the other near Harris Creek Road. They would have bookended a 1,304-acre solar field the board approved in 2017, with most of the energy produced going to Dominion Energy to help it meet its statewide goals for solar production.

Many residents were angry about the loss of rural character as a cornfield along Tisdale Road was replaced by a solar field. Others noted problems with the project approved in 2017, including truck traffic on the roads and stormwater runoff into nearby streams.

The board’s vote to reject Belcher Solar’s conditional use permit application was 4-2-1. Supervisors Toni Williams (Jackson District) and Bob Babyok (Green Springs District) voted against turning down the proposal, while Supervisor Eric Purcell (Louisa District) abstained because he has a financial interest in another solar development recently approved near Northeast Creek Reservoir.

The Louisa County Planning Commission had recommended that the board approve the Harris Creek Road portion of the project, which elicited less resident opposition, but reject the Tisdale Road part. 

At the meeting, Bickley Road resident Claudia Perkins shared photographs and video to demonstrate how stormwater runoff from the 1,304-acre solar construction site has turned the water in a nearby creek brown. Some farmers in the area have complained that the excess runoff has flooded portions of their land and their cows have to drink the brown water.

Lee Downing, a Belcher Solar spokesman, addressed the issues on the site at the board meeting, even though his company sold the project to Dominion Energy two years ago. He admitted there were some issues with stormwater due to a series of rainstorms over the summer.

“Erosion and soil control plans for the site are to minimize stormwater runoff, not to eliminate it totally,” Downing said. 

He also downplayed reports by residents about construction truck drivers, including several people’s statements that large rocks have fallen out of trucks as they speed down the roads. Downing said the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office told him they had received only a couple of complaints about drivers. 

One resident, Renee Brown, wondered if her complaint was not counted. When she called the sheriff’s office to complain, she was directed to call Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, who represents Patrick Henry District. 

Steve Hopkins, a farmer on Roundabout Road, said the damage to water quality in Harris Creek is noticeable far downstream from the construction site. 

“They should not be able to proceed until they have the sediment runoff under control,” he said. “Until they have a vegetated buffer out there, they’re not going to have it under control.”

To try to assuage concerns about the view of the sea of solar panels from Tisdale Road, Downing proposed installing five rows of arborvitae trees. Supervisor Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road District) said that isn’t good enough, since the trees will take five years to grow tall and thick enough to block the view.

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