Montgomery Co. residents share mixed opinions on proposed major solar panel project

Montgomery County Solar Panel Hearing
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 1:29 AM EDT
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Solar energy was a big topic of discussion at Monday’s Montgomery County Board of Supervisors meeting. Fotheringay LLC is requesting a special use permit to construct 10,560 solar panels on 35 acres off Roanoke Road on three parcels on the Fotheringay Farm property.

The applicant wants the property to have the solar energy but also include agricultural pieces, and is proposing a sheep grazing area.

“We want to bring all of the exciting resources from a solar project and still have it be livestock grazing there,” said Buzz Becker with Pivot Energy.

Ultimately the solar energy would become a part of Appalachian Power’s energy grid, which Pivot Energy said will allow for discounts for customers in the area to use the energy. But Appalachian Power has not been approved to be a part of the Shared Solar Program in Virginia by the General Assembly.

“Our perspective is that this has been a holdout program that’s in bipartisan support; the governor and his energy plan talked about shared solar as an exciting opportunity that is hoping to be expanded to ApCo soon. One of things about a program like this is you have to have just about all of your diligence done. You would get a credit on your bill with AEP and then the invoice you would get from the solar project for that credit that dramatically brings your AEP bill down is at a discount,” said Becker.

There were more than 15 speakers and it was half and half when it came to supporting or being against the project.

“What I am asking you to do tonight is establish a committee or a working group made up of citizens, agricultural leaders, solar experts from Virginia Tech and even solar company representatives to develop an ordinance that we can address a lot of these concerns moving forward. If this one is approved, this is just going to steamroll it and we’re going to see more and more of these and it’s going to chew up farmland. Where are you going to get your next meal from when they are all under solar panels?” said Casey Phillips, president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.

“We’ve always been very good stewards to that farm, we’ve also been good neighbors to the valley. As we considered this solar project we’ve looked at everything to be able to take care of the house. We felt like it met two of our objectives; obviously we couldn’t see it from the house nor from the road and we were guaranteed there would be buffers in it even before we knew any of this. We also had a guarantee from them that they would take the panels out with a bond. As Mr. Becker said, this is just the first step in many towards the approval of it. It’s a hope for us, it’s a way for us to maintain the house for a number of years and that just feels really good to us. We hope that our neighbors will respect our right as a land owner just as we respect their rights as land owners,” said Dabney Jacob, one of the owners of Fotheringay LLC.

An analysis from Montgomery County said this would be the first major solar energy project in the county. The county also added the need for new sources of renewable energy continues to grow.

The supervisors took no action on the proposed plan at Monday’s meeting and WDBJ7 will continue to update our viewers on the air and online as more develops on the story.