Planned Solar-Panel Facility Threatens Historic Virginia

Photovoltaic solar panels / Getty Images
July 1, 2019

A proposed solar-panel facility near Culpeper, Va., has local residents and landowners dissatisfied, since many say it would disrupt Virginia's historic sites while offering an unreliable energy source.

"For reasons of agricultural productivity and zoning, historical sensitivity and natural beauty, it does not belong in this area," Alex Foshay, the owner of an antebellum mansion in the area told the Culpeper Star-Exponent. "You are going to be placing permanently based solar panels upon Civil War battlefields."

The area's rootedness in both the Old South and Civil War history will likely pose problems for developers if they push forward with the project, historian Bud Hall said.

"Substantial numbers of enslaved people are buried on that property," he said, in reference to the land proposed for the solar facility. "They deserve more respect than to have solar pilings driven through their remains."

The project, to be operated by the California-based Cricket Solar, is set to cover 800 acres of land intended for agricultural use and would produce 80 megawatts of power for the county. It is the latest in a series of solar projects in Virginia that has upset residents who say solar is not the most effective renewable source for the area.

"We're destroying huge amounts of land for a system that, at best, is 20 percent efficient," industrial electrical contractor Doug Orye told the Washington Free Beacon in May, explaining that for their cost, solar facilities produce an almost negligible amount of energy.

Orye said that in his working experience, solar has only been effective in small-scale situations, when panels are installed on private rooftops and sheds. In bigger projects, such as the one in Culpeper, solar panels cover too much area and don't collect enough sunlight daily to justify a hefty investment from government entities.

Additionally, the Cricket project has some landowners worried that the process of constructing panels could cause environmental damage to the area.

"I am a conservationist, and I have very strong feelings about clean air and water and fossil fuels, but here we have a group of promoters from someplace else who don’t care anything about this very, very fragile area that I live in," Mike Baudhuin told the Star-Exponent, explaining that the Culpeper area would not be suitable for a solar project.

"Clearly, alternative energy sources are important for our future, but you don’t sacrifice the entire local environment," he said. "We are not going to solve the energy crisis at Raccoon Ford. There is sunshine in other parts of the state and country. This location is inconsistent with conservation and historic preservation."

Local officials will hold a public hearing in August to address the situation.