Planners okay solar facility

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Planners in Buckingham County have given the green light to a special use permit that would allow for the construction of a $35 million solar energy facility at 623 High Rock Road in Buckingham.

The permit request, which now must be approved by the county’s board of supervisors, is from Virginia Solar LLC. The firm is seeking to construct a facility which would include ancillary support facilities and electrical interconnections with a generating capacity of 20 megawatts of electrical energy to be transmitted on an electric utility’s distribution line. On an annual basis, the project could produce about 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power up to 4,500 homes, according to Virginia Solar.

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The project would employ solar arrays, panels, photovoltaic modules and inverter stations.

Planners included 18 conditions in approving the permit, which regulate noise from the facility, maximum height of structures, fencing around the facility, visibility of the site from roadways and the project’s decommissioning process.

Robert and Lillian Johansen own the 210-acre parcel of property that Virginia Solar is seeking to construct the project on, according to county documents.

According to Lee Downing of Virginia Solar, the firm is seeking to contract with a utility company to supply electrical energy. He said Virginia Solar is committed to building the project in Buckingham. “Our goal is to have multiple sites in multiple counties, not just one site,” he said.

According to one of the conditions, the facility won’t receive a building permit until “evidence has been given to Buckingham County that the electric utility has an interconnection agreement with the permittee.”

“I’m all for solar, but I don’t believe it’s good for Buckingham County at this point,” said Pat Elmadany, who owns land near the site and who spoke during the public hearing for the permit. “I don’t feel it’s very good. It’s an eyesore,” she said, explaining that she was attempting to sell her property.

Kenda Hanuman, a member and spokesperson for Friends of Buckingham — a group opposed to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline — said the solar project sounded like “a wonderful idea” from the group’s perspective. “We’ve been hoping for alternatives to gas in our community,” she said. Hanuman called the project “a way to avoid destruction that we might experience through having the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the compressor station here.”

The facility could draw up to 150 workers during construction, according to the permit application.

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.

“We either sell the project to the utility company and then they fund it and the other business model is that we sell the power to the utility company and then we finance it, and we finance it with banks and with equity partners,” said Theo deWolff of Virginia Solar.

According to the permit application, construction could begin in May 2016 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 stated 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.

The project would be subject to county real estate taxes but not machinery and tools taxes, according to the application.

“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.