But even with the increased interest in solar projects, there are challenges renewable energy developers have faced and could still face, said Scott Remer, a developer with the company.
Grid connection and local permitting are two of the biggest hurdles developers encounter when getting solar projects off the ground. Some of the hurdle comes down to an aged power grid that may not be able to handle an infusion of solar energy, or that a suitable place for a solar farm is nowhere near where it can reasonably connect to a power grid.
These factors can cause a local government to pass on a solar farm proposal — as is their purview to do so.
“There is often a disconnect between what a state’s clean energy goals may be and what can actually get built in that state’s municipalities,” Remer said.
Communities have pushed back against solar projects for other reasons. One is concern over land use. The notion of using ground space in agricultural areas for something other than agriculture has been cause for hesitancy by some.
“Every action we take is a trade off,” Remer said. “If we do something with land, we can’t do something else with it, right?”
Solar installation may not be a good fit where there are crops for food being grown or an old-growth forest with various plants and animal life, he said. A large-scale solar farm would also not fit well in cities with higher density (though he said some rooftops are ripe for solar panels).
“But, on the other hand, we need clean energy produced, how do we get that balance?”
Remmer anticipates some back and forth with the county’s planning office to fine tune details before holding a public hearing with the Planning Commission. Though the county will not confirm its timeline, Remer estimates that the Board of Supervisors will vote on the project before the end of the year and panel installation could begin by next summer — if it’s approved.
“What’s really cool,” he said, is that this potential project in Albemarle can strike the balance.
That’s because having been the site of tree farming for so long, areas of soil has become depleted, making it difficult to grow other crops on the site.
“We’re starting with a pretty degraded site anyway, that has been historically timber in a really intensive industrial process for about eight years. The topsoil is very eroded.”
On a recent tour with Charlottesivlle Tomorrow, Remer navigated deep tracks of erosion as he drove his truck through the site. Following a recent rain, mud splattered into the wheels. What is now barren land, unable to foster the trees it used to grow, may soon bustle with diverse foliage at the base of solar panels.