Residents Are Worried A Solar Array Could HURT The Environment

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator
  • Sustainable Power Group plans to construct a 500 megawatt solar facility in a rural Virginia area.
  • Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake and Spotsylvania County has formed in response. 
  • The group has questioned the economic and environmental impacts of the project. 

A massive solar project being pushed in Virginia is raising economical and environmental concerns, sparking local residents to form an opposition group to find more answers.

Sustainable Power Group — a Utah-based company that owns and operates more than 150 utility and distributed electrical generation systems across the country — is about to begin construction on what will be one of the biggest solar energy facilities in the U.S. The renewable energy company is in the process of constructing a solar farm in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, a rural area about 60 miles south of Washington, D.C.

Dubbed the Spotylvania Solar Energy Center Project, the proposal is a 500 megawatt facility that will span about 6,350 acres — of which 3,500 acres will be used for solar development. The panel installations will cover well over five miles. Sustainable Power Group, also known as sPower, plans to begin construction in August and be done by late 2019.

However, the project has attracted mounting opposition from residents living in Spotsylvania County. Local residents fear the economic and environmental impacts of such a monumental project.

“Just the sheer, immense scale of this solar power plant — right in the middle of existing residential neighborhoods and farms —  is unprecedented, and there’s no experience to be gleaned from existing solar plants of this size,” said Kevin McCarthy, a member of Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake and Spotsylvania, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: Here’s How Renewable Energy Actually Hurts The Environment)

Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake is, by its own description, an informal group of residents who have coalesced to raise attention over the project’s implications. They have pointed out that such a massive solar farm has never been built in a timbered region such as Spotsylvania County, making their community a guinea pig. Similar projects in the U.S. typically are built in the middle of deserts.

“As proposed, at 10 square miles, 6,500 acres — that’s half the size of Manhattan — this would be the fifth largest solar power plant in the United States – surrounded by thousands of homes and farms. The other four largest solar plants — they’re in the desert southwest, miles and miles from any residential areas,” McCarthy said.

Concerned Citizens has questioned the ecological impact of the project. Solar technology, despite being lauded by green energy activists, can pose numerous threats to the environment. Chemicals in solar panels can contaminate local bodies of water and soil — usually by rainwater runoff or improper recycling.

“The environmental risks associated with this could be devastating: contaminated stormwater runoff into local streams, rivers, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Soil erosion, the unknown impacts of the ‘heat island’ effect, the potential damage to, or collapse of, the local aquifer that supplies water to thousands of homes in the area. We’re not talking about the flat, high desert southwest; we’re talking about the forested hills of Spotsylvania,” Charmaine Mueller, another member of Concerned Citizens, said to TheDCNF.

An issue that largely accompanies solar integration into an economy’s energy mix: unreliability. The intermittent energy that solar produces, depending on how much the sun is shining at a particular moment, makes for fluctuating power to the grid and typically increases utility rates — all things Concerned Citizens has cited.

Sustainable Power Group submitted its approval application in March. The county government has one year from the application date to reply. When contacted by the TheDCNF, the chairman of the Spotsylvania County board of supervisors said he had not yet taken a position on the issue.

“I really do not have any comment about this project. It is still too early in the process for me to make an informed decision about this application and any concerns about it at this time,” chairman Greg Benton stated. The answer makes the power company’s intention to begin construction as soon as August all the more complex.

Sustainable Power Group did not respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF in time for publication.

Another Concerned Citizens spokesman, Dave Hammond, framed the group’s goal in simpler terms.

“Our message is simple; three words: ‘Do No Harm.’ Our ad hoc group has identified numerous risks to people’s health, safety, welfare, wildlife, and the environment,” Hammond stated. “Either ensure ‘Do No Harm’ or do not build it.”

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