Planners set hearing for $35 million solar facility

Published 11:48 am Thursday, August 27, 2015

County planners in Buckingham have set a Sept. 28 public hearing regarding a special use permit being sought by Virginia Solar LLC to construct a $35 million solar facility along U.S. Route 60.

The hearing for the project, which would be located on 210 acres of property at 623 High Rock Road, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Peter Francisco Auditorium at the county administration complex on Route 60.

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The firm is seeking the permit from the county to construct the facility, which would include ancillary support facilities and electrical interconnections with a generating capacity of 20 megawatts of electrical energy to be transmitted on a Dominion distribution line. The project would employ solar arrays, panels, photovoltaic modules and inverter stations.

“I’m tickled about it,” said District Three Planning Commissioner Patrick Bowe after voting to hold the September hearing. “They could have gone any place in the state of Virginia but they came here.” Bowe represents the area in which project would be located if approved.

District Three Supervisor E.A. “Bill” Talbert, who represents the area on the board of supervisors, called the project a great idea. “Bringing industry in the county, bringing revenue in the county, I’m for it 100 percent, so far as I’ve heard,” he said.

During the Monday planning commission meeting where the hearing was set, attorney J. Robert Snoddy III, representing Virginia Solar, noted that the tallest of the solar arrays and towers would be 10 feet.

He said the initial term of the lease between the property owners and the firm is for 35 years. “Electricity generated by this 82-acres at the site of solar panels would supply enough energy to power 4,000 typical homes,” he said.

Herbicides will be sprayed underneath the solar panels to keep the growth of bushes and trees down, Snoddy said.

Robert and Lillian Johansen own the property that Virginia Solar is seeking to construct the project on, according to county documents.

According to the State Corporation Commission, Virginia Solar LLC was organized in June by Theo de Wolff.

“We do get benefits from the added income to the county through the standard fees that are imposed upon all utilities in the state of Virginia,” Snoddy said.

He said the proposed project could open the door for varied employment in the county.

Before building the facility, which could draw up to 150 workers during construction, the firm would need approval from the county’s board of supervisors.

In terms of employment, the project would have up to three employees every two months on-site for system inspections, vegetation management and preventative maintenance following the construction period. In addition, one employee may be on-site for security at any time, according to the application. There are not expected to be any permanent employees stationed at the site.

According to the permit application, construction could begin in May with the peak of construction in the summer or fall.

The day-to day-operations of the Firestone Solar Project would “be passive and would make little substantive change to the character of the area,” according to the application. “There would be remote 24/7 monitoring of the facility to ensure the plant is operating safely.”

The firm states in the application that solar-generated electricity is rapidly becoming competitive with other forms of energy generation. “Growing electricity demands in Virginia are not presently met by existing local generation.”

Once facilities are constructed, solar power “will result in a clean, cost-effective, market-dependable source of electricity,” Virginia Solar stated.

The property is currently zoned agricultural.

“Local suppliers and contractors may get engaged by the general contractor during the construction. The influx of construction workers would provide a steady source of revenue to local hotels and restaurants,” the application noted.

The county’s board of supervisors must hold a public hearing before the permit is approved.