(CNSNews.com) -- More than 300 residents of rural Spotsylvania County, Virginia gathered at the Spotsylvania Courthouse on Dec. 5 to protest plans for a massive solar energy plant – half the size of Manhattan -- which would be built close to residential areas and the historic sites of three Civil War battlefields.
The public hearing at the Spotsylvania Courthouse, where Utah-based solar power company sPower attempted to secure permit approval for its 500-megawatt facility, lasted several hours due to a flood of comments from the community.
Kevin McCarthy, a resident of Spotsylvania and member of the grassroots group Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County (Concerned Citizens), which opposes the proposal, said the plant is “extraordinarily incompatible” with the county’s “aura and history.”
“The biggest objection we have to this thing is that it’s totally out of character for this county, whose comprehensive plan calls for maintaining the rural, agricultural, and residential nature of this county,” McCarthy said. “Yet this proposal is going to consume the largest tract of designated forest in the entire county.”
“They call it a solar ‘farm,’” he said. “That’s real smart marketing because it’s not a farm. It is a massive industrial-scale power plant.”
At about 10 square miles, or roughly half the area of Manhattan, the facility would be the fifth largest solar plant in the United States. It would require the clearing of 6,500 acres of forest to make way for 1.8 million solar panels that would help power Microsoft, Apple, and the University of Richmond.
It would also be the only U.S. solar plant located close to residential areas or farmlands; according to McCarthy, the distance of the plant from some residents’ yards would only be 50 feet, while the average distance of most other large U.S. solar plants from residential areas is eight miles.
According to sPower, the project would benefit the county and the State of Virginia by creating “green” jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generating electricity through “clean, renewable technology,” increasing tax revenues, and stimulating the local economy during the project’s construction.
“This is the future,” said Charlie Payne, an attorney for sPower, in an interview with NBC4. “And look who our partners are at the table. It’s Microsoft. It’s Apple. There’s some real opportunity for this area, for Spotsylvania County, and I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.”
Many Spotsylvania residents, however, have serious reservations about the plant. On its website, Concerned Citizens says taxes and the price of electricity would go up, and property values would go down if the plant is built.
In addition, none of the energy from the plant would go to the Spotsylvania community.
Residents are also worried that the plant’s construction could seriously damage the aquifer that supplies water to their homes. The clearing of forested land could cause soil erosion and runoff that could “devastate” streams and wetlands in the area, and the potential leakage of cadmium, a carcinogen, from solar panels could increase health problems among residents.
The Spotsylvania County Planning Commission will hold a follow-up hearing on the proposal on January 2.