A Charlottesville energy company is proposing to build a solar farm on approximately 650 acres in southeast Albemarle County near Secretarys Road.
Hexagon Energy, a local clean energy development company, is seeking a county permit to build a large-scale solar panel project, which it calls Woodridge Solar. The company says the project, if approved, would generate enough electricity to power more than 25,000 homes over its 35-year lifespan.
The company is applying for a special use permit from Albemarle to build the 138-megawatt solar power facility on approximately 650 acres of a 2,300-acre property that has been industrially forested.
The property is owned by JD Land Holdings, LC and has historically been used for planted pine timbering for the past 80 years.
The application was submitted on Monday and a community meeting has not yet been scheduled. Albemarle staff have yet to begin their review of the project and no date has yet been set for the Planning Commission meeting. Ultimately, the commission will provide a recommendation to the oversight board, which has the final say.
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“We see this as a great opportunity to balance energy production, natural restoration and the continued hunting of land in a place that really needs that energy,” said Scott Remer, director of development at Hexagon Energy.
A 2017 amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance allows large-scale ground-mounted solar installation in rural areas when the project obtains a special use permit. If approved, it would be Albemarle’s largest solar project. There is no specific policy regulating permits for large-scale solar projects in the county, but some supervisors have expressed interest in it.
In the county’s “renewable energy supply” section of its climate action plan, which was approved in 2020, the goal is “to increase the renewable energy generating capacity of the electric grid system.” .
The plan states that in supporting utility-scale renewable energy projects, “the county will also strive to maintain a holistic perspective that considers potential climate benefits and the health of our local ecosystem. “.
“In doing so, we will prioritize rooftops, parking lots, brownfield sites, landfills and post-industrial or other open land over forested or environmentally valuable land for the siting of renewable energy facilities in large scale,” the plan reads.
In 2019, the county adopted targets to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and to be “net zero” by 2050 using the county’s 2008 greenhouse gas inventory as a baseline. A 2021 report showed the county will need to further reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 39% by 2030 to meet its emissions goal.
“This project would be able to knock out power to about more than half of the homes in Albemarle – 25,000 out of about 45,000 homes,” Remer said. “It’s a big chunk and it’s a step towards Albemarle’s aggressive climate action plan.”
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 38.9% of the region’s electricity comes from gas, while 12.6% comes from coal.
Remer said this site is what Hexagon Energy is looking for because it is located along a Dominion Energy high voltage power line and is large enough to accommodate a large scale project. Large parts of the site have already been cleared as part of timbering operations.
According to Remer and the application, the project also includes a 200-foot setback established along the property lines, and the setback would be divided into two sections: forest and grassland.
The forest section would be at least 100 feet where existing mature trees and vegetation will remain. An additional 20-foot-wide vegetative buffer would be provided in areas of the forest section that may be visible from adjacent roads and homes, as requested.
In the other 100-foot-wide section, a “native pollinator-friendly grassland mix” will be planted.
There would be security fencing around the proposed project, which would be divided into several individual sub-grids, each individually fenced to allow wildlife to still move onto the property.
Remer said the solar farm could be connected to the power grid within three to five years. PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator that oversees who and how companies feed into the power grid, told the company it should anticipate permission to interconnect over the summer.
“It gives us the flexibility to really start moving this project forward very quickly,” Remer said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re really excited is that this has potential, rather than being held back in the interconnection process, this has an opportunity to really start generating revenue. clean energy very soon.”
Remer said the company has sent letters to landowners within a quarter mile of the site and has also begun outreach to nearby winery owners, Monticello, regional conservation groups and the Woodridge Sportsman’s Club. who is currently hunting in the field.
“It’s the start of a dialogue with the community, and there’s a lot of opportunity to see revisions happen, so hopefully it works out better for everyone,” he said.
More information is available on a project website at woodridgesolar.com. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected]