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2nd solar facility eyeing southern Frederick County

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A second massive solar power facility could be coming to southern Frederick County.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at its 7 p.m. Wednesday meeting at the County Administration Building, 107 N. Kent St., where the panel is slated to vote on whether to approve a conditional-use permit [CUP] for the Bartonsville energy facility that Boulder, Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy wants to locate on approximately 1,160 acres in a largely rural area along Passage Road (Route 648), Marlboro Road (Route 631), Springdale Road (Route 649), Middle Road (Route 628), and west of the CSX rail corridor and partially within the Stephens City town limits.

About 705 acres of the site would be used for the installation of rows of ground-mounted solar panels, other necessary equipment for facility operations, a transmission substation, access paths, fencing and landscaping.

If the project moves forward, the facility would generate more than 180,000 megawatts hours of solar energy during its first year of operation — enough to power about 15,000 homes in Virginia.

County planner Tyler Klein said a major reason the area was chosen is that it's near an existing First Energy 138 kilovolt transmission line. The solar panels would be interconnected, and the power generated by each panel would be combined, converted, and the voltage increased to allow delivery to the transmission line.

In July, the supervisors OK'd a CUP for Richmond-based Urban Grid, representing Foxglove Solar LLC of Stevensville, Maryland, to develop a $101 million solar facility on about 670 acres in the vicinity of Hites, Marlboro, Klines Mill, Clark and Vaucluse roads. It will generate enough energy to power 11,500 homes.

At a Sept. 2 Planning Commission meeting, more than 10 people expressed concerns about the proposed Bartonsville project, including its impact on their views and property values, as well as the loss of agricultural land.

Jason Gordon, who lives on Brackenfern Lane in Stephens City, said the Bartonsville facility, combined with the solar facility recently approved, puts too much solar in the Back Creek District. He said that amount of solar centralized in one area of the county is not balanced.

“By approving this CUP, the county government would be placing an undue burden on the residents of the Back Creek District and would be demonstrating a lack of oversight on the part of the planning and zoning departments,” Gordon said.

Kevin Sneddon, who also owns property on Brackenfern Lane, said he bought the nearly 9-acre parcel a few years ago because his family liked the rural landscape. He said he might not have made the purchase if he knew the land would be near a solar facility. He called the proposed Bartonsville project “large scale, commercial and industrial.”

“That’s not what we signed up for,” Sneddon said. “We are not opposed to growth, but we do not want this thing directly in our backyard.”

Stephens City resident Linda Heath called the proposed project a “monstrosity” that would destroy her agricultural views and her way of life. She accused Torch Clean Energy of using “beautiful Frederick County land” to sell electricity and called nearby property owners “sacrificial lambs.”

Some residents requested additional berms and screening as well as increasing setback distances. Torch Clean Energy has proposed that setbacks be a minimum of 100-feet from all external roads and property lines and 200-feet from agricultural and forestal districts.

It was noted during the Planning Commission meeting that many of the speakers during the public hearing live in Stephens City, and the portion of the proposed facility they are most concerned — 136 acres within the town limits — is not subject to county regulations. That land, according to county staff, is subject to Stephens City regulations, and the solar project is considered a by-right use per the town's zoning ordinances regarding public utlities. Even if the supervisors deny the CUP, Torch Clean Energy would be able to develop a solar facility in Stephens City.

The Planning Commission ultimately voted 10-2 to recommend that the supervisors approve the CUP. Several commissioners said the project would increase tax revenue and preserve agricultural land by eliminating the potential for residential development. Chairman Kevin Kenney and commissioner Charles Triplett voted against recommending approval. Commissioner William Cline was absent.

About 360 acres of the proposed Bartonsville site are currently platted as rural residential subdivision lots. These lots — 64 in total — are from the undeveloped Springdale Glen and Carrollton Estates subdivisions. If the solar project moves forward, Torch Clean Energy would — as a condition of the CUP — need to vacate the 64 platted residential lots prior to site plan approval.

A permit condition added after the Planning Commission meeting says that no new residential lots could be subdivided while solar facilities are on the property.

The permit also calls for buffers and screening around the perimeter of the project.

Batteries, specifically those used for the mass storage of electricity, are prohibited as part of the CUP.

Also, access to the site would be limited to two entrances — one from Springdale Road and one  from Passage Road, according to the CUP.

And the pile-driving of poles for solar arrays during construction would be limited to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, per the CUP. All other construction activities are permitted 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. No construction activities would be allowed on Sundays.


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