A company that built and is now operating seven solar farms across southwest and central Virginia has been cited for violating state regulations meant to control erosion and sedimentation.
Energix US will fix the problems and pay a fine of $97,651 as part of an agreement reached with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Two of the facilities — in Henry County and Wytheville — produce electricity that is purchased by Appalachian Power Co.
Although many of the violations involved administrative matters, there were some instances of muddy runoff from construction sites where large arrays of solar panels were being installed.
Those problems have largely been corrected, according to Dominika Sink, Energix's senior director of project acquisition and development.
"I think we're really trying to learn from past mistakes and implement policies to make sure that this doesn't happen again," Sink said. "At the end of the day, we are an environmental company, so things like this are really important to us."
Energix is currently planning a solar farm in Franklin County, and has about a half dozen other facilities in the works south and west of Roanoke.
Other sites that were subject to the DEQ enforcement action are located in Appomattox, Buckingham, King William and Prince George counties, in addition to a second Henry County site at Axton.
The seven solar farms were inspected for their compliance with state storm water management plans in 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to a 31-page consent order posted this week to DEQ's website.
At the Appomattox facility, inspectors found that "many areas around the site, particularly under the solar arrays, were denuded and stabilization had not been applied," the consent order states.
Runoff had created gullies and maintenance was needed on silt fences, check dams and other erosion control devices at the Leatherwood operation in Henry County, which in 2021 became Appalachian Power's first utility-scale solar farm.
As the purchaser of renewable energy generated by the solar farms in Henry County and Wytheville, Appalachian has no direct role in their operation and was not mentioned in the DEQ enforcement action.
In recent years, the utility has accelerated its plans for renewable energy to comply with the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a 2020 law that requires it to provide all carbon-free electricity to its Virginia customers by 2050.
While solar and wind farms have been embraced for the clean energy they produce, they still have critics who point to issues with their appearance and environmental problems such as erosion and sedimentation.
Sediment is most harmful when it reaches streams and wetlands. There were few such cases cited in the enforcement action taken against Energix.
The DEQ consent order includes a compliance schedule to ensure that corrective actions are completed. At Leatherwood, for example, Energix is required to submit a revised storm water management plan.
DEQ will accept written comments from the public through April 26 before taking final action in the case.