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County officials approve controversial solar farm project after hours of deliberation: 'We have an obligation'

"There's misinformation and fear-mongering, and then there's reality."

"There's misinformation and fear-mongering, and then there’s reality."

Photo Credit: iStock

Supervisors from Patrick Country, Virginia, voted 3-2 on March 11 to approve the region's first utility-scale solar farm after a nearly two-hour-long public hearing that included 24 speakers. 

Local outlet Cardinal News reported that the Fairy Stone Solar project will generate 12 megawatts, enough to power 2,000 homes, on a 211-acre plot of land southeast of the town of Stuart.

According to a representative from developer Energix Renewables who spoke at the hearing, Fairy Stone will draw a tax revenue of $2.48 million to the county across its 40-year lifespan and an advanced payment of $198,000.

The proposal sparked a heated discussion, as nearly two dozen citizens expressed concerns about the solar farm's impact on the county's scenic views, tourism, and environment.  

A few speakers referenced the potential threat of the cadmium telluride used as a semiconductor material leeching toxic chemicals into the surrounding water and soil.

Energix spokesperson Shawn Henderson refuted that point, saying that the 250 million solar panels manufactured and distributed worldwide by First Solar have yet to cause any contamination in its 25-plus years of operation. 

"There's misinformation and fear-mongering, and then there's reality," Henderson added.

The EPA states that cadmium can harm human health at high levels, but the Department of Energy notes that cadmium telluride-based solar cells comprise just 5% of the global market for photovoltaic technology.

Others questioned the accountability of Energix, citing a fine of $99,000 that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality proposed for stormwater control violations at seven solar farms across the state. Henderson said that the infractions were minor and have since been resolved. 

Only one speaker voiced their support for Fairy Stone.

"Solar is here because we've got a problem with climate change," resident Steve Ferring said. "I don't like it, but it's affecting the world now, and we have an obligation. We have an obligation to try and mitigate it. Solar is one option."

Despite the heavy opposition, the project's approval marks another step in the state's transition toward a cleaner future. The Inflation Reduction Act is creating careers in Virginia's solar and wind industries, while neighborhood solar cooperatives have made solar panel installations cheaper and more accessible. 

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