Hearing set for $35 million solar facility

Published 5:25 pm Thursday, October 29, 2015

Supervisors in Buckingham County are set to gather public comments on a proposed $35 million solar facility on Nov. 10 at 7:15 p.m.

The hearing will take place during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting in the Peter Francisco Auditorium in the County Administration Complex.

The permit request, which is pending approval by the county’s board of supervisors, is from Virginia Solar LLC.

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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.

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

The county’s planning commission 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.”

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 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 permit 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.