Virginia has a renewable energy problem: we don’t have enough of it. Residents of Northern Virginia are particularly anxious to see wind and solar projects here. That’s why the recent proposal by EnviroSolutions Inc. to develop a renewable energy park in Lorton is so encouraging. ESI is offering to install several different renewable energy technologies at its construction landfill site in Lorton as its proffer in exchange for the right to continue its existing operations — meaning this plan would cost the public nothing.
The Green Energy Park concept was developed over the course of more than a year, in consultation with members of the local community. The design includes three wind turbines, enough geothermal energy to supply a planned regional sports complex, collection of methane gas to create electricity for county-owned buildings (saving the county $200,000 annually in energy costs), and three acres of solar panels. In addition, ESI would develop an environmental education center at the Lorton Workhouse to let students from all over the county explore and learn about renewable energy. Two new nature parks round out the proposal.
ESI will supplement these projects with $15 million in cash payments to the county over 20 years, to be spent within the local community. This is enough to fill the budget deficit that the Lorton Arts Center currently runs, and which creates an ongoing drain on county coffers.
The proposal is a good deal for the Lorton area. Turning down ESI’s offer would actually be worse for neighboring residents, because closing its construction landfill would cause ESI to begin using another parcel it owns and can use by right, producing more truck traffic on local roads. That’s why neighboring homeowners associations support ESI’s proposal. Creating a green energy image for Lorton will also help to rebrand an area that for years was more associated with waste disposal and prisons.
Opponents of the plan don’t have a beef with letting ESI continue using its landfill. They just aren’t interested in renewable energy, and would rather make the company pay for something else.
ESI’s proposal, though, isn’t just good for Lorton; it’s good for the whole county. Cutting energy costs, providing revenue to the county from sales of renewable electricity, and eliminating the Lorton Arts Center’s budget deficit will all help the county’s bottom line.
Just as significantly, the Green Energy Park can become a point of pride for County residents. Rising 350 feet above the surrounding area and constantly buffeted by winds off the Potomac River, ESI’s landfill is one of the few sites in Northern Virginia suitable for wind energy. The three turbines would be visible to drivers coming north on I-95, creating a unique welcome for travelers that already seems destined to become iconic. Add in the solar and geothermal projects, and the Green Energy Park will contribute to making Fairfax County a leader in renewable energy technology and a more satisfying place to call home.
The Lorton Green Energy Park proposal is currently before the county’s Planning Commission, and will then go to the Board of Supervisors. It deserves to be approved.
The writer is vice chairwoman of the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club.