SUP approved for Riverstone Solar

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, November 11, 2021

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The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors has approved a special use permit (SUP) for the 149-Megawatt (MW) Riverstone Solar project to be located in the northern end of the county.

But not all supervisors voted for the permit after many constituents voiced their concerns during the SUP’s public hearing at the Monday night board meeting.

The solar farm, developed by Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy, would be located on approximately 2,000 acres of land owned by timberland giant Weyerhaeuser. The project is anticipated to bring in around $14.8 million in revenue to Buckingham over the course of its 40-year life.

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More than 40 members of the public provided comment during the public hearing on Monday, Nov. 8, with many expressing concerns about the environmental impact other large solar facilities have had on the commonwealth, including the Dominion Energy Belcher Solar Project in Louisa County, where neighbors say excess  stormwater runoff from the project is washing away their land and contaminating local bodies of water.

Some citizens stated the SUP would not be in line with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Others asked the board to consider conducting its own independent review of the site.

Resident Kelly Franz said she believed the board should prioritize establishing a solar ordinance prior to granting any SUP in order to prevent “unscrupulous” business projects and asked the board to reject the application.

“A 2,000-acre solar project this close to the James River is a huge mistake,” Franz stated.

Some residents were in favor of the project. Resident Richard Walker told the audience on Tuesday night that he wished similar concerns had been expressed during the era of Atlantic Coast Pipeline considerations.

“Now we are complaining about bringing renewable energy here?” Walker asked. “This would be ideal for the county,” he said. “I am looking forward to it, and I support this SUP.”

Supervisors were torn when it came to the SUP’s approval.

District 1 Supervisor Dennis Davis said he was concerned about possible runoff issues at the solar farm. He recommended the Board pump the brakes and ask for an independent review to be conducted, adding he’d like to see a solar ordinance established before the county is further bombarded by solar farms.

District 6 Supervisor Joe Chambers said that since the vast majority of his constituents were opposed to the project, he would vote no to the SUP request.

“I feel like these conditions we have here are really solid,” District 4 Supervisor and Vice Chair Thomas Jordan Miles III said. “This is not going to be Louisa. This is not going to be these other counties because these conditions were not in place in these other counties.”

Since the case’s introduction in October, the county modified numerous conditions of the SUP for the project after feedback received from the public and the Board. Some of the modifications included a construction traffic management plan, the restriction of certain roads during construction and decommissioning and changing the setback of the project to 350 total feet.

Ultimately, the Board voted 4-3 to approve the SUP, with Miles, District 3 Supervisor and Board Chair Don Matthews, District 2 Supervisor Donnie Bryan and District 5 Supervisor Harry Bryant voting yes. Davis and Chambers voted no, and District 7 Supervisor Danny Allen was not present and therefore abstained.

The Board also voted 4-3 for a siting agreement between the county and Riverstone.

“The numerous conditions and rules we have approved and the siting agreement for Riverstone go above and beyond in ensuring that this project will ensure the protection of the environment and the well-being of those who live near the project’s footprint,” Miles said in a statement made Wednesday. “These include a 350-foot setback from existing residences, buffers within and around the entire project, strict erosion and stormwater control measures, wildlife corridors, numerous runoff basins and third party, professional consultants to review all plans before construction. Additionally, this is clean, green energy, and Buckingham will benefit from this project.”

“We are very pleased that the Board of Supervisors approved the Riverstone Solar special use permit,”  Apex Clean Energy Development Manager Jimmy Merrick stated. “Solar is a fundamentally clean, safe, and reliable form of energy generation, and this decision brings us one step closer to bringing the many benefits of renewable energy to Buckingham County. We especially appreciated the engagement level from residents of Buckingham County throughout this process. Our design is community-driven and will co-exist with surrounding land uses. This is illustrated by the 29 conditions that were negotiated with the supervisors and codified with our approval on Monday, which incorporate many suggestions we’ve heard from neighbors and local leaders.”

Merrick said once Riverstone’s plans are formalized, there will be a third-party, independent review by a firm of the county’s choosing and paid for by Riverstone.

“This independent review will make sure Riverstone Solar’s plan is in alignment with the conditions in the SUP, protecting neighboring landowners and natural resources,” he said. “We believe the Board’s decision on Monday demonstrates the quality of our project and highlights the incredibly thorough review performed by the Board and county staff. We are excited to move this project forward and to do the work necessary to get this project built and generating millions of dollars of new economic opportunity and renewable energy that will positively impact the community.”

On Wednesday, County Administrator Karl Carter stated citizens are correct that the county needs a zoning ordinance or policy in the future.

“Whether the Apex project was approved or denied, we know we need to work on a policy or ordinance,” he said.