MOUNT JACKSON — On the windy and sunny first day of March, 78-year-old Fred Garber faced the future from a slope on his 163-acre farm.
His voice competed with the sounds of power tools that rattled across a 23-acre, fairly rocky section of his land. Bordered by tall fences of woven wire, workers in hardhats and bright safety vests made progress on a solar project that, when completed, will feature nearly 10,000 panels.
The panels face east in the morning and west in the afternoon, rotating to follow the slow path of the sun. They’re expected to generate 6,989 megawatt-hours of clean, renewable energy annually, equivalent to the energy usage of 570 homes.
“I’m convinced that climate change is a valid thing. I’m not responsible for the world, but I’m responsible for this,” Garber said of the solar-power facility taking shape on his farm. “And I’m responsible for doing what I can to see that my grandkids have the best possible life. My grandkids are appreciative of this.”
Shenandoah County officials also admire the nearly completed solar facility, which they say serves as a model for the types of solar projects they want to see in the county.
Garber’s farm stands southwest of Mount Jackson and west of Interstate 81. Bird Hill looms to the south. Even closer to his land is a more than 650-acre solar farm off of Turkey Knob Road.
In late 2020, the county Board of Supervisors approved a special-use permit for the solar project on Garber’s land that’s now being completed by EDF Renewables Distributed Solutions.
As of Wednesday, about 75% of the project’s solar panel framework was done and about half of the total number of panels had been installed, Garber said.
EDF Renewables is under contract to complete the solar facility by the end of March, company Superintendent Larry Payne, whose office is in Columbia, Maryland, said at Garber’s farm on Wednesday.
Garber is leasing a total of 29 acres of his land for the facility, which extends between Walker and Georgetown roads. The project site stands adjacent to an existing Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative substation and will connect directly to the co-op’s local electric distribution system.
All of the power generated will go directly to Shenandoah County customers, who will pay a fixed price for the electricity throughout the solar facility’s 25-year contract.
In the long run, “We’re trying to leave this as natural as possible,” Garber said while showing visitors the portion of land the facility stands on.
He continues to use much of his farmland for hay production, raising beef cattle and growing corn. Once the solar project is finished, the 23 acres of fenced-in land it utilizes might be used by grazing sheep to maintain the grass below the panels.
Looking back, Garber said he learned a lot about solar projects when he served as a board member for the Shenandoah Valley and Old Dominion electric cooperatives.
In the previous couple of years, he said, he and his wife had been approached by 11 solar project developers – 10 from around the United States and one from Canada – mostly because of their farm’s proximity to the substation.
“I’ve been on this farm since ‘78, and it’s been there before that,” Garber said of the substation.
County Planning Commissioner Mark Dotson, who chaired the county’s now-disbanded Solar Ordinance Review Committee, said the nearly completed solar project on Garber’s farm in many ways illustrates the committee’s vision for a potentially revised county solar ordinance.
The project “embraces solar but does it in a responsible way,” Dotson said recently. For example, “It’s not using productive farmland or jeopardizing historical resources.”
Isn't it nice to have property rights and the ability to use one's own property as one sees fit? I'm happy that Mr. Garber got this done. His legacy and foresight will serve his family for generations to come.
Thank you for your forward thinking Fred.
The power produced stays in Shen Co, customers pay a fixed price for *25* years, and it's better for the environment? Yes, please!
Congratulations Fred what you did is necessary to save the planet for future generations
the group citizens for responsible solor is a front for fossil fuel investors in some ways they defeated solar arrays in page County and here as well
I had responded to all the miss information they spread on the Internet
Solar power is a lie the only people who benefit is the Rich and the Chinese
Darrin. Showing how clueless and ignorant you are. Congrats or something.
You need to learn about solar energy. It works.
While I agree with some that these can change the landscape of a beautiful area I also see the possibilities of making this earth a little cleaner place. Fred is doing what he believes is right and I happen to support him.
Congratulations Fred Garber! Your solar power project is exemplary in understanding the science of our climate change crisis and in taking effective and economical action to help mitigate it. May many others follow your example.
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