Frederick solar farms move forward
Frederick County is on the verge of seeing its first solar power farms. Three facilities are in the works, with another in the pipeline. That’s not to say Virginia’s northernmost county is exactly embracing fields of solar panels.
“Solar farms change the character of the land from rolling fields and animals grazing in pastures to a sea of glass panels and glare,” says J. Douglas McCarthy, vice chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors.
The loss of valuable farmland is always concerning, he says. However, solar is less intrusive than housing, which changes the landscape forever. “Theoretically, the land used for solar panels could be reversed back to farmland,” he says.
Until recently, the county saw little economic value in solar farms, McCarthy says. However, solar companies now offset their developments’ impacts by offering incentives such as revenue sharing or upfront fees.
Boulder, Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy’s Bartonsville Energy Facility, which received a conditional-use permit in January, will make a one-time $750,000 payment to the county within 30 days of construction. It plans to build a 40- to 60-megawatt facility on a maximum of 430 acres.
Hollow Road Solar, a subsidiary of Leesburg-based Blue Ridge Energy Holdings LLC, requested a permit to build an 83-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm on a 326-acre parcel, but the county denied it in March 2021. However, this January, Hollow Road won approval on its second attempt by placing land (now primarily used for orchards) into a conservation easement and eliminating the transfer of development rights, essentially preventing residential development on the parcel, McCarthy says.
Also on the books is Stevensville, Maryland-based Foxglove Solar LLC’s 75-megawatt facility on 668 acres, for which the county approved a conditional-use permit in July 2020, as well as Pittsburgh-based Redbud Run Solar LLC’s approximately 263-acre facility, which the county approved in April.
Proposals take about three years to move through county and state approvals.
“There is no definite timeline on any of them getting started or finished, but they are working to get plan approvals now,” says Karen Vacchio, spokesperson for Frederick County.
However, don’t expect to see many more solar farms in Frederick, McCarthy says. The “gold rush for solar” is largely over, since the prime areas where those operations can feed into transmission lines have been taken.