Solar project wins board support on second try

A proposal to locate solar panels on just over 100 acres in the Apple Grove community won the Louisa Board of Supervisors’ backing last week after the developer reduced the project size.

SolUnesco’s project was rejected by the board in August 2020. But the applicant took advantage of a loophole in county regulations, which bar an applicant from asking for a conditional use permit for the same thing twice within a one-year period. The company argued successfully that shrinking the project from 20 to 15 megawatts made it substantially different.

The board’s vote on April 19 was 5-2, with Supervisors Duane Adams and Fitzgerald Barnes (Mineral and Patrick Henry districts) opposed. Supervisor Eric Purcell (Louisa District) abstained because he has a financial interest in another solar project in the county.

Right after the vote, the board voted to close the loophole so that an applicant cannot return within one year seeking the same land use on the same property. That vote was unanimous.

Adams said he could not support the SolUnesco project because it does not include a landscaped buffer of at least 150 feet around the affected area, as required by county code. Seth Maughan, a SolUnesco representative, said the company will maintain a 200-foot buffer along Jefferson Highway (Route 33) and a 100-foot buffer in most other sections. But there is no buffer along one edge on property owned by Bob Bunting. The landowner told the board in a letter the buffer would impede his farming operations adjacent to the solar panels.

The county code says the supervisors can waive buffer requirements based on a number of factors, including the impact on nearby farm areas. But Adams said allowing an exception in this case would encourage other solar developers to ask for their own waivers.

Maughan said one of the benefits of his company’s project is that the energy from the solar panels will be distributed directly to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves customers in the surrounding area. Other, larger solar projects in the county are sending electricity to the grid, but not to a local energy provider.

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