Second solar facility approved

Published 6:35 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

Supervisors in Buckingham County unanimously granted a special use permit (SUP) during its Aug. 14 meeting that allows the construction of a $35 million solar facility, consisting of a 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generating facility that could power about 3,300 homes, creating 13 new jobs in the county.

Approval of the new facility came as work has begun on the first solar facility in the county, approved months ago by supervisors.

The SUP was sought by Buckingham II Solar LLC.

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This is the second solar facility in Buckingham County. Last June, county supervisors approved a special use permit for the construction of a $35 million solar energy facility at 623 High Rock Road in Buckingham. Virginia Solar LLC, which owns Buckingham II Solar, the permit applicant, sought last year’s permit for the first facility.

“This application is made by the same individuals as the first application, but under a different entity name. This request, if approved, will be adjacent to the previously approved solar facility,” County Zoning and Planning Administrator Rebecca S. Cobb said in a previous interview. “The applicant stated in the May meeting that the previous facility will be connected to one transformer at the Buckingham Substation, and this facility is planned to be connected at the other transformer within the same substation. According to the applicant, this facility will have the capability to power approximately 100 additional homes as compared to the total number powered in the previous request.”

If approved, the facility will be located on approximately 295 acres on five parcels consisting of approximately 470 acres, according to the permit application.

Owners of the properties that the facility spans include Robert and Lilian Johansen, Katherine J. Firestone Living Trust, Ryan D. Johnson and Blue Rock Resources.

The permit includes 26 conditions which address compliance with federal, local and state laws, including meeting national industry standards and requirements; a building permit being obtained within three years of obtaining the SUP; noise during construction and operation of the facility; a minimum of a 150-foot setback between solar equipment and residences; a minimum 50-foot setback from solar equipment to the property line and any public right of ways “where it is adjacent to property not owned by the same property owner; vegetative buffers, a six-foot security fence around the facility; construction lighting; parking; and panels having anti-reflective coatings.

“I’ve driven by there. I’ve looked at it. I approve it. Let’s go renewable and stop digging fossil fuel out of the ground,” resident Nelson Bailey said during the public hearing that preceded supervisors’ approval of the project.

Resident Daniel Myers said he lived beside the proposed solar facility.

“My property borders it to the north. I have concerns about the security fencing to at least be 6-feet tall surrounding the project. I believe it would be an eyesore … I also believe it will reduce the resale value of adjoining properties like mine.”

According to Matthew Meares, representing Virginia Solar LLC, the first solar project in Buckingham is set to go online by December.

After explaining to supervisors how solar facilities operate and generate electricity, he noted that solar is becoming economically competitive in the commonwealth of Virginia.

“You had additional available electrical infrastructure,” he said, explaining why the second facility was planned for Buckingham. “We were familiar with your permitting process and was in compliance with the comprehensive plan.”

Regarding visual impacts of the facility, he said the panels wouldn’t reflect sunlight and all electrical lines would be buried except at the point of interconnection.

“Let’s get straight to the point about the buffers. The way we’ve proposed it is we’ve agreed and the conditions require us to plant a double row of staggered evergreen trees … that’s one of the conditions, and it’s our intention … to place that and then have the fence. So the trees will be outside the fence. You don’t have to look at the fence forever,” Meares said.

He noted the project’s intention to have the buffer along the roadway.

“There’s going to be no noise once the project’s actually built,” Meares said.

“We have offered that we will have a decommissioning fund established so that the county and the landowner are not liable for any type of payments at the end of the facility in order to remove the facility …,” he said.

“We don’t create a heat island … Basically our goal is to absorb sunlight, and then there’s airflow around those panels to keep them cool,” Meares added.

The evergreen trees, at maturity, will be 30-40 feet tall, he noted.

Noting adjacent property values, he cited a study that notes as long as the solar panels were more than 150 feet away, it would have no effect on adjacent property values.

The project, he said, would contribute $1.3 million in economic impact to the county during construction, noting that about 200 workers will be soon on-site installing panels at the previously-approved facility.

“We’re doing our best to keep from being heard, smelled or affecting public safety in any way,” Meares said. “We are mitigating the visual impact as much as we can … We agree with all the conditions proposed in this staff report and approved by the planning commission.”

“It sounds like to me you’ve belayed the concerns that were brought up,” District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant said.

“The project will use proven technology which has been used throughout the U.S.,” project leaders said in the permit application. “The solar arrays and ancillary equipment will occupy approximately 225 acres of the 295 acres subject to the SUP. The PV modules produce low-voltage direct current (DC) electrical power which is collected and delivered to the inverter and transformer stations located throughout the site where it is converted into medium voltage alternating current (AC). The power from the inverter stations will be collected from across the site to the point of interconnection where it will interconnect with the Dominion Virginia Power distribution line through a pole-mounted device. By interconnecting with the distribution lines, the project will help meet local electrical needs first, with the excess then flowing to the overall grid.”

According to the application, the perimeter of the project will be surrounded by a six-foot high chain link fence.

According to the application for the SUP, the facility will be monitored remotely on a 24/7 basis to ensure the project is operating properly. “The project will be constructed in a single phase with a proposed 35-year life. The project will produce enough electricity on an annual basis to power approximately 3,300 typical homes.”

According to the permit application, “it is expected that most construction workers will commute to the site from nearby communities. It is anticipated that there will be an average of 85-100 workers on-site during the construction period with a maximum of 122-250 workers for the project.”