Old lumber site in Albemarle Co. to be used for solar panel project

What once was a pine tree farm is now expected to become home to 650 acres of solar panels. That’s enough to power about 25,000 homes.
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 10:52 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County could be taking a big step forward in going green. Hexagon Energy got one of the approvals it needs to start construction on its Woodridge Solar Project.

What once was a pine tree farm is now expected to become home to 650 acres of solar panels. That’s enough to power about 25,000 homes.

“This project connects to the power line equivalent of a really big highway. That big highway has exits off of it, they go on to smaller local roads. And that’s how you get to people’s houses,” Hexagon Energy’s Scott Remer explained.

He says this site is ideal for two reasons - it already has clear access to power lines and the soil is unfarmable.

“It takes degraded timberland that has been cut over multiple times, has highly acidic soils, isn’t good for a lot and it really helps rejuvenate those soils and reintroduce bees, butterflies and native wildlife habitat to that area,” Remer said.

The project includes 500 acres of meadowland and a 200-foot vegetative buffer so the panels won’t be as visible

“One of the things we do not want is to have the view in our beautiful county spoiled by nothing but solar panels right up to the VDOT right of way or right up to property lines,” Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chair Donna Price said.

Remer took his plan to the board of supervisors, which gave him the first round of approvals needed to start.

“They still have to submit all of their plans that have to go through the county’s Community Development Department. And the site plan has to be reviewed and approved. Construction will start in about a year, we anticipate,” Price said.

People, for the most part, have voiced support - with one petition gaining more than four hundred signatures.

”It’s really important that we’re developing solar resources in a place like Albemarle where we have space and really dedicated decision makers and committee members who know what to look for in these projects,” C3 Policy Analyst Katie Ebinger said.

She is in favor of the project getting the go-ahead.

“This is a great opportunity for the county to live its values and also be a leader in the state. And it’s one of the biggest projects in Virginia,” Ebinger said.

The power generated would go onto a grid that serves Albemarle County and other communities, as well.

“If you had a big network of pipes or hoses full of water, you don’t know exactly where any particular piece of water is coming from. It all mixes together. So even now, the way the grid works is we have power from nuclear, we have power from coal and gas still on the grid. Nobody knows exactly what power is being used at their home,” Remer said.

There were some concerns raised about the fire department being prepared to handle an electrical fire.

“What I would tell you is my home is within a mile of this plan. And I would be much more concerned about a dry pine tree farm catching on fire than I would a few panels that might have some electrical fire. But it is important that our fire and rescue have the proper training and equipment to be able to respond in the event there is a fire,” Price said.

Remer says solar power is something that would benefit the entire area.

“Something happens, the grid goes down, or a large power plant somewhere else gets shut off, this can still produce power and kick it out onto the grid into our local area,” Remer explained.

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