Strata Solar on Friday afternoon pulled its application to build a utility scale power plant in Culpeper County, a week after the planning commission scrutinized, then denied, the request and neighbors intensely opposed it.
This is the second time in as many years that an out-of-state solar company has abruptly yanked its request to build a big project on farmland in Culpeper after facing similar scrutiny and public opposition.
Culpeper County Administrator John Egertson confirmed Saturday that Strata’s Maroon Solar project had been withdrawn.
“The status therefore is that it is off the table, but they do have the right to reapply at any time,” Egertson said. “Any such application would be a complete re-start, meaning it would be back at the planning commission level.”
The North Carolina-based solar development company had planned to build the $200 million, 1,700-acre, 149-megawatts project on cleared timberland along Racoon Ford Road, Mount Pony Road and Algonquin Trail on the county’s southern end, near the Rapidan River.
The West Virginia division of the natural resources corporation, Pardee Resources, owns most of the agriculturally zoned land for the project that would have connected to the Dominion Power line that runs through it.
During a four-hour meeting on Nov. 12 in the auditorium at Eastern View High School, the planning commission thoroughly considered the request from Strata for a conditional use permit to build the project.
Planning commission members made many comments about the size and scale of the project being too large and not in conformance with the county solar policy set by the Board of Supervisors, limiting individual solar projects to 300 acres.
Many neighbors and citizens also spoke against the proposed solar power plant for its potential to impact the rural viewshed, natural resources and historic nature of the remote area.
A few neighbors supported it for the renewable energy benefit and for land rights.
County staff, in its lengthy review, ultimately did not recommend approval due to the scope of the project. The county is also now considering requiring a land rezoning for large solar projects and upper limit of 2,200 total acres for such facilities.
Strata developer Louis Iannone, who represented the project last week at the Culpeper meeting and public hearing, confirmed the Maroon Solar project had been withdrawn. He declined further comment.
Algonquin Trail resident Susan Ralston has led the organized citizen effort against the three large solar projects so far proposed in the area in the past two years, none of which have yet materialized. She is president and founder of Citizens for Responsible Solar, a 501c4 social welfare group.
Ralston was among the first to know on Friday that Strata Solar had pulled its permit and said in a statement on Saturday their group was thrilled to hear about the project withdrawal.
“The Planning Commission heard our appeals and their unanimous vote sent an important message that the current solar policy, regarding the size of the project and its impact on the rural character of the county, were important factors in denying Maroon’s application,” she said in an email.
Ralston said Maroon realized Culpeper County “is serious about protecting affected landowners, the area’s history and the environment.” She said her group looks forward to working with the county to strengthen the policy and adopt a solar ordinance to “balance the demand for renewable energy with the historic, rural heritage of Culpeper that we want to preserve.”
In August of 2019, Cricket Solar, a project of California-based BaWa, suddenly pulled its request to build a 1,600-acre project along Algonquin Trail after it faced similar pushback.
The company recently expressed interest in entering into a siting agreement with the county to renew the project.
Culpeper County Board Chairman Gary Deal in 2018 voted for the one approved solar project, Greenwood Solar. The 1,000-acre proposed plant on farmland near Stevensburg stalled in litigation after neighbors sued, eventually landing the case in front of the state supreme court, which upheld the county board’s earlier approval. Greenwood recently saw its permit expire.
Asked if Culpeper County is anti-solar, Deal said on Saturday he could not answer that question.
“There’s many factors that will determine that over the next several years,” he said.
Deal declined further comment about property land rights and renewable energy benefits.