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DEQ grants solar permit

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a permit for a $35 million solar energy facility on High Rock Road in Buckingham. Ten percent of the project cost — $3.5 million — is expected to contribute directly to the local economy.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the issuance of the permit for Firestone Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Virginia Solar, Thursday. In November, county supervisors granted the firm a special use permit to operate and construct the facility.

Once complete, the 19.8-megawatt project will be the first utility-

scale solar generator of its kind in Buckingham, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Construction of the approximately 200-acre facility is expected to begin early next year and be completed by the end of 2017 at a cost estimated at $30-$35 million.

According to the permit request, Virginia Solar LLC will construct a facility capable of generating 20 megawatts of electrical energy. The project could produce about 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power up to 4,500 homes, according to Virginia Solar.

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

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

During a public hearing held earlier this year, J. Robert Snoddy III, a Dillwyn attorney who represented Virginia Solar during the permit process, said the $3.5 million boost to the economy would bring more people to the area.

“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,” Snoddy said.

According to county documents, Robert and Lillian Johansen own the 210-acre parcel of property Virginia Solar will use.

“This solar source, as I understand (it) … is part of a requirement from (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for power companies to have a certain amount of solar energy in the mix,” County Administrator Rebecca S. Carter said. “I am sure a power company will be purchasing the credit of this solar energy source from the company that is building the solar farm.”

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.

Virginia Solar’s Theo deWolff said the firm would either sell the project to a utility company or finance the project with banks and equity partners while selling generated power to a utility company.

DEQ’s “permit by rule” contains provisions to ensure the environment is protected at the site, according to the press release.

Virginia Solar’s Matthew Meares said the company is “very pleased and thankful” to Buckingham and the commonwealth for supporting a “100-percent Virginia-owned and -operated utility scale solar developer” by approving the permit.

Carter said the State Corporate Commission will determine the solar site’s value as to the tax base to the county, but didn’t believe there would be a significant tax base due to it being solar.

“Since this is our first solar farm, I am not sure sure what the impact will be,” Carter said. “I do not know how there could be any negative impact as long as it is managed well. It is my understanding several contractors have contacted our building department inquiring (about) the process to obtain the building permit and … fee.”

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, with remote 24/7 monitoring of the facility.