Supervisors to hold public hearing Thursday on proposed Bristersburg solar energy facility | News

A public hearing will be held Thursday evening on a proposal to build a 485-acre solar energy facility outside the village of Bristersburg in southern Fauquier County. Even if the application is approved by supervisors, the proposal will still need to gain a special exception permit, which also includes a public hearing component.

Charlottesville-based Torch Clean Energy estimates that the installation will generate 80 megawatts of electricity per year, enough to power about 15,000 homes. The company also estimates that the facility will be subject to about $8.2 million in real estate and property taxes over the estimated 40-year lifespan of the project.

The draft agreement includes a provision that would require that the 522 acres affected by the project be placed into a permanent conservation easement, meaning that the land could not be developed or subdivided after the solar panels were dismantled. Cedar Run District Supervisor Rick Gerhardt insisted on the provision, explaining last month that its inclusion was vital if he was to consider supporting the application.

“While the project is situated on agricultural land, it would require minimal grading due to the favorable topography,” said a Dec. 3 from the applicant company. “As a result, the soils would be well-preserved and prepared to return to agricultural use” after the facility’s lifecycle ends.

Additionally, the company has proposed additional annual payments based on the actual energy output of the installation, estimated at a total of $3.5 million over 40 years. The negotiation of terms between the county and the applicant is made possible by a law passed last year by the Virginia General Assembly creating a “solar siting agreement” process. Solar companies can negotiate financial incentives benefiting localities as part of the process.

A report this week from the county’s community development department, however, cautioned that the actual energy output may be less than the company’s estimate. There are several technical factors that may limit the amount of space practical for solar panels, the report said; that in turn could mean that actual payments are less than anticipated.

Currently, the land is zoned mostly for agricultural use — a small portion is within the village of Bristersburg — and is in large part utilized for crops and sod production. The affected land could be subdivided into as many as four-dozen residential lots under current zoning.

The combined 522 acres is currently valued at $1.9 million, although only $511,500 of that value is taxed because of some of the land’s inclusion in the county’s agricultural-use tax-deferment program.

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