Neighbors file lawsuit in Culpeper’s first solar energy project
By Allison Brophy Champion Nov 8, 2018 0
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By Allison Brophy Champion
Neighbors of the first solar energy project to be built in Culpeper are suing the county and the development company, claiming it will ruin their views and decrease their property values.
A civil suit filed Oct. 31 in Culpeper County Circuit Court by Fairfax attorneys Noah Klein and Margaret Marks names as the plaintiffs Timothy and Gloria Stegmaier, John Covington, Wayne Brown and Donald Haight Jr.—all outspoken opponents of the project that will neighbor their land.
The suit names as the defendants the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors and Greenwood Solar, the Texas-based company that initiated the solar farm on 1,000 acres of traditional farmland near Stevensburg. Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources has since acquired the project.
Last month, the supervisors narrowly approved a conditional-use permit for the $130 million project that will follow a two-mile corridor of the Dominion Power transmission line.
The lawsuit, filed by neighbors of the solar farm to be constructed along Batna and Black Jack roads, asks the circuit court to reverse that approval. The complaint claims the Board of Supervisors unlawfully approved the use permit in violation of state law mandating “reasonable requirements” for renewable energy projects regarding buffers and setbacks, noise and decommissioning.
The suit further claimed the Board of Supervisors improperly overturned and ignored the findings of its own planning commission that had previously recommended denial of the project.
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The planning commission, in not supporting the solar farm, reasoned that it was out of character with the area, per the comprehensive plan, and that it would adversely affect the health and/or safety of neighbors, the complaint states.
The Board of Supervisors, in not following the planning commission’s recommendation, did not offer sufficient justification for doing so or provide any alternative findings or facts, the lawsuit stated, noting elected officials therefore “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in approving the use permit.
Neighbors who filed the suit claimed they “are aggrieved” by the project in that it will destroy their views of scenic and historic fields, generate excessive glare, decrease their property values and result in excessive noise and traffic during construction.
Covington, in the suit, further claimed the project would negatively impact wildlife at his hunting preserve at historic Rose Hill and decrease the home’s value as a hunting, event and wedding venue.
“The solar panels will ruin the desired backdrop of many customers who are looking for historic and undeveloped land,” the suit states.
Brown, who runs Kildee Farms in Stevensburg as a wedding and special events venue, argued similarly, saying the solar farm would destroy the view shed of historic farmland and hurt the business.
Culpeper County Attorney Bobbi Jo Alexis acknowledged receipt of the lawsuit in a Nov. 2 letter. The county has 21 days to respond.
Alexis said Wednesday, “As always, I endeavor to have any litigation against the County expeditiously dismissed.”
Securing the conditional-use permit for the Culpeper project was “a major milestone,” said NextEra Energy Resources project director Shanelle Wilson in an email to the Star-Exponent last month. She said the approval would allow the company to market the project and secure a long-term energy sale contract with a customer.
“The Greenwood Solar project has the potential to create good jobs, provide additional revenue to the community and deliver clean, homegrown electricity to help meet Virginia’s renewable energy goals and reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. We are excited for our partnership with the community and we are thankful to everyone for their support,” Wilson said in the email.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at email@example.com or (540) 825-4315.