Special use permit for a shared solar project in Augusta County tabled Thursday

HW Farms in Augusta County where solar panels would be installed if approved by the county.
HW Farms in Augusta County where solar panels would be installed if approved by the county.(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 6:05 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Waynesboro Bridge Solar, LLC, based out of Pennsylvania, is hoping to get a special use permit to install solar panels on some land in Augusta County.

The company spoke Thursday at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting about the benefits solar would have for the community.

But not everyone is in favor of the proposed project.

The special use permit would allow Waynesboro Bridge Solar to install solar panels on 40 acres of land, owned by HW Farms LLC, off of Old White Bridge Rd. in the Wayne District.

This project would be part of the Shared Solar Program.

“Anybody with electric account with Dominion in the service territory to access the benefits of solar energy and the main benefit here is not only the reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” Derek Sheehan with Dynamic Energy said.

Those folks could also see a 10 percent discount on their electric bill.

Sheehan adds that about one in five homes meet the requirements to install solar panels on the roof of their homes, so this program would allow more people use solar energy without actually having panels on their property.

The Shared Solar Program is part of the Virginia Clean Energy Act and is launching October 1 starting with 30 to 40 projects across the state.

If approved, construction of the solar panels wouldn’t take place until 2023, but Waynesboro Bridge Solar said it would produce up to 25 years of electricity and could support around 1,000 homes in the service area.

The company explains that construction would take about four months to complete and could provide around 30 to 40 jobs over the life of the panels. They add that they hope to source a good amount of those jobs locally.

You can read the full report of the plan here.

Some community members spoke in favor of the project, including one of the owners of the property.

“Times changed then and times are changing now. So, this project will help us financially to keep doing what we love to do, but it’ll also help others,” Steve Wine, a co-owner of HW Farms, said.

Another person in favor noted that if approved, the panels would not be a permanent change and could still be used for agricultural purposes.

“If this land is in solar, then it can’t be used to developed into house or commercial, businesses or industries. It will be guaranteed to remain open space and possibly have some complimentary farm use for the the length of the contract,” Nancy Sorrells said.

Sorrells adds that the project would benefit all residents of Augusta County by diversifying the county’s tax base, providing substantial new tax revenues and keeping the taxes lower in the future.

But many others spoke out in opposition of the project, with a main concern of the panels being visible from their homes.

“This solar farm would immediately decrease the value of these 10 properties and likely others to a lesser degree. If you doubt this statement, how would you like to buy a home that looks out on solar farm out your picture window?” Jim Donnelly said.

Donnelly adds that he is not opposed to the project all together, but thinks there could be a better location for it.

Waynesboro Bridge Solar has planned to add a buffer of forestation to help block the view of the panels, but some residents do not think it would be adequate.

“It’s interesting to see them farm there. It’s interesting to see the crops grow. I enjoy the wildlife I see,” John Foster said. “I do not like the idea of staring at a black screen that is approximately half of what that farm is there.”

“If this exception passes today, it will be approaching other agricultural members of our society under the same thing, and before we know it, it will sprout throughout our entire county and may possibly end up in your front yards,” Pamela Barrens said.

The Board of Zoning appeals voted to table a decision for 30 days to consider the different points brought up at Thursday’s meeting.

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