Damaged but not dead: proposed 500 MW farm in Spotsylvania takes a hit

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Spotsylvania County officials have issued a ruling recommending denial to two-thirds of sPower’s special-use permit applications regarding the company’s proposed 500 MW solar farm in the Virginia county.

While the recommendation of denial is for two of the three applications, those two applications represent 470 MW, or 94% of the project’s planned capacity. Furthermore, county officials have included a strict set of conditions for any parts of the project that gain final approval. These conditions include a prohibition on solar panels containing cadmium telluride – which means First Solar’s products – as well as restricting the project to using only public water, setting a bond allotted to cover cleanup of the site when it is retired and minimum-350-foot setbacks from adjacent properties.

If the project is denied, this will be a problem not only for sPower, but also Microsoft. The tech giant already holds a contract for 315 MW of the Spotsylvania project’s capacity.

The crowd in attendance for the vote that led to this recommended denial, over 500 strong, was mostly comprised of opponents of the project, as reported by fredericksburg.com. The consensus issue with the project ultimately boiled down to the opinion that the size was too ambitious.

This slowdown in Spotsylvania is a potent reminder for observers of the solar market of how much room there is for projects to be derailed between announcement and final operation. Just because a project is announced and it’s huge and innovative, doesn’t mean that it’ll actually be built.

This is not just a regional issue, either. As pv magazine reported to kick off the year, ISO New England estimates that 70% of proposed projects never make it off the ground. This is what makes some figures, like the 139 GW of projects proposed in the territory of six grid operators, only the starting point for market estimates.

And it is often the largest, most ambitious projects that are the most likely to be derailed.

And the same Spotsylvania residents that oppose this project are not necessarily opponents of solar;  many have stated that they just see this project as too large. This is supported by the reality that officials still voted to recommend approval of the 30 MW project application and resident Dave Hammond’s critique that he “always has felt this was way too big a scope.”