Monday, January 30, 2023

Proposed solar farm lights a fire under property neighbors

Mike (left) and Amanda Beringer show neighbors informational displays about SunPower's proposal for a solar farm adjacent to their neighborhood. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
Mike (left) and Amanda Beringer (center) show neighbors informational displays about SunPower’s proposal for a solar farm adjacent to their neighborhood. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

A proposed solar farm in Norge is generating heat among the neighbors of the property.

In November, California-based solar energy company SunPower Corp proposed constructing a solar farm on a 223-acre site a half-mile off Richmond Road in James City County.

SunPower is requesting a Special Use Permit from the county to lease the property from locally-owned Whisper Ridge, LLC for 35 years. The site is currently farmland and is only accessible through the private residential neighborhood of Norvalia.

Fifty residents of the adjacent neighborhoods met at the home of Amanda and Mike Beringer in Oslo Court Wednesday evening to voice their opinions of the proposal.

“I just wanted people to know that it was happening.  It’s more about awareness at this point,” said Mike Beringer.  “I talked to a couple individuals who are in favor of it and I absolutely believe everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I would say the general consensus in the neighborhood is that it’s a negative.”

In attendance were James City County Supervisors Ruth Larson (Berkeley District) and Sue Sadler (Stonehouse), who listened to residents’ concerns. SunPower’s request to build a solar farm on the property is scheduled for review by the Board of Supervisors at their May 9 meeting.

Sadler said she attended in order to “hear everyone’s thoughts, concerns and questions and incorporate that in the process. We’re here to listen.”

Both Sadler and Larson said they had not decided which way they would vote on the proposal next week, and would consider both the residents’ and SunPower’s opinions, as well as the recommendations of county staff.

Neighbors’ concerns were centered on their property values, glare from the solar panels, the view from their properties and SunPower’s use of private streets for access to the proposed facility.

The dirt road between two homes on Oslo Court would be used by SunPower to access the solar farm. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
The dirt road between two homes on Oslo Court would be used by SunPower to access the solar farm. Construction vehicles, equipment and workers would travel this path daily. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

The neighborhood streets are approximately 10 feet wide, and if the proposal is approved, SunPower would need to move large trucks through the neighborhood daily during construction. SunPower has indicated they would use Farmville Lane and Oslo Court to access a dirt road that runs between two private residences to reach the solar farm.

“I’m mainly concerned they’ll be using Farmville Lane,” said Oslo Court resident Mike Eyler.  “Right now I can leave my house and there’s no stop sign on Oslo.  That’s how little traffic we have.  Is that going to change?”

SunPower’s proposal indicates between seven and 10 trucks will need to access the property daily during construction, in addition to 60 to 80 construction workers, according to meeting documents.

Once construction is complete SunPower expects no more than four trips per day. According to the company, construction will last roughly nine months and take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during weekdays, and deliveries will be coordinated to avoid school bus stops.

SunPower Project Manager Drew Gibbons said the company is aware of neighbors’ concerns and is “working to mitigate the impact” of the project on the neighborhood.

“No data exists to suggest this type of project impacts property values negatively,” Gibbons said through email.  “In some ways, it will be less intrusive than farming operations or other ways the site may be developed.”

However, Amanda Beringer presented a 2010 study which indicated homes within two miles of solar plants can see decreases in property value between three and seven percent.

A map of the proposed solar farm site and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. (Courtesy James City County)
A map of the proposed solar farm site and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. (Courtesy James City County)

A 50-foot vegetative buffer will separate the solar farm from adjoining properties.  In some places the buffer is already present, but in other places evergreen shrubs and trees will need to be planted in order to keep the solar arrays out of view.

Founded in 1985, SunPower employs more than 6,000 people and generates a combined 2,600 megawatts of electricity across its solar plants worldwide, according to company research provided to the county. 

SunPower claims the solar farm will be able to generate enough electricity to power roughly 4,000 homes annually.

Some neighbors said they are in favor of solar power, but believe the proposed location is incompatible with the adjoining neighborhoods.

“In general I think it’s great, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to have a renewable energy resource,” host Amanda Beringer said of solar power.  “I just think the location of this particular solar farm surrounded on three sides by five neighborhoods and on a fourth side by a farm. It’s just a bad location. James City County has so much space they could find a better spot for it.”

Not all in attendance were opposed to SunPower’s proposal. Sean Lawler said he will be moving into a three acre property adjacent to the farm soon, and while he is concerned about traffic and noise during construction, he said he has no problem with the project.

“A solar farm to me makes a quiet neighbor once it’s done,” Lawler said.  “This is the way of the future.  Solar, wind — they all beat coal and fossil fuels.”

Sarah Fearing contributed reporting.

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