Solar project approved

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, November 12, 2015

Supervisors in Buckingham County have approved a special use permit that would allow for construction of a $35 million solar energy facility at 623 High Rock Road.

Ten percent of the project cost, or $3.5 million, is expected to contribute directly to the local economy.

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According to the permit request, Virginia Solar, LLC

will 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.

Supervisors 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.

“Ten percent of the investment, it’s estimated … would go into the county’s economy,” said J. Robert Snoddy III, an attorney representing Virginia Solar. “Now that’s a $35 million investment so that’s $3.5 million going into the local economy. There’ll be people here living here in terms of staying at the motels, eating at the restaurants, buying equipment, buying supplies and the like,” he said during the public hearing held Tuesday.

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 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.

“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.