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Hanover officials discuss major solar farm development

Solar Panels on top of a house
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
Solar panels are seen on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at Fulton Hill neighborhood in Henrico, Virginia.

If approved, the 1,400 acre development would be the largest of its kind for the county.

Hanover County is in the early stages of reviewing what would be the largest solar development to come to Hanover’s Beaverdam District since the county adopted a broadened solar policy.

The project was submitted by North Carolina-based Strata Clean Energy LLC, who has constructed 12 solar projects in Virginia. To date, Hanover has only approved four solar projects in the county.

Strata aims to rezone around 1,477 acres of privately-owned land adjacent to the North Anna River in order to build a solar farm capable of producing 72-megawatts worth of electricity; enough to power around 18,000 homes.

If approved, the project – dubbed the North Anna River Solar Farm – would be constructed within 16 to 18 months, but won’t be fully operational until 2028.

Although the project involves multiple acres and parcels, roughly 337 acres will be covered by solar panels. The remaining acreage will be designated as open space and wildlife corridors in order to maintain the area’s rural character.

Developers have held a number of public engagement meetings throughout April where County Supervisor Jeff Stoneman addressed concerns over the environmental and quality of life impacts, should the project proceed.

“It's only my first term and right out the gate, I’ve had some of the largest projects that we've seen in Beaverdam,” Stoneman said.

Beaverdam is one of the largest magisterial districts in Hanover, measuring 190 square miles. The area is also connected to several residential neighborhoods, with large swaths of the area designated for economic development in Hanover’s comprehensive plan.

With the recent approval of a data center campus in Beaverdam, Stoneman said he recognizes residents’ concerns thrown his way as Hanover welcomes new developments to a predominantly rural part of the county.

“I ran as … keeping Hanover rural; that is my primary objective,” Stoneman said. “I took a lot of criticism for bringing a data center, but sometimes you gotta make difficult decisions in order to preserve that quality of life for all of our constituents.”

Strata’s development is no exception, according to Stoneman, as the proposed solar farm could provide a new source of tax revenue for the county; potentially generating over half a million dollars annually.

Andrew Pompei, Hanover’s deputy planning director, said the project also adheres to the guidance set forth in the county’s solar policy. The project would be appropriately shielded with natural buffers – like trees – and would improve stormwater drainage in the area with a study on potential environmental impacts.

Pompei says the solar policy has largely helped to reign in concerns residents have had over preserving Hanover’s rural character.

“I think from a review perspective, it's been helpful because that guidance does establish some recommendations on where these types of facilities may be appropriate,” said Pompei. “They really focus on design elements of the facilities and how they can blend in with the surrounding community and be more compatible with any adjoining properties.”

Still, residents have expressed to county officials an interest in being made aware when projects of this size come their way.

“One thing people don’t understand about Beaverdam is that it’s huge,” Stoneman said. “A lot of people feel like these projects come up out of nowhere, and I think that getting the information out is what's really difficult.”

In an effort to increase communication and transparency with the Bearerdam community, Stoneman plans to host a number of town halls to discuss the recent developments in Hanover. The next town hall is planned for May 7 at the Montpelier Community Center

Stoneman hopes residents will learn more about the project as it advances to the county planning commission in late May or early June, and become receptive to new developments as they arise.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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