Solar farm approval process moves forward

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 14 to move forward with a plan for a solar farm and other improvements.

A special use permit was approved to start the process of a solar farm built by Commonwealth Energy Partners (CEP) Solar LLC. This 25MWac, or mega-watt alternating current, solar energy farm will be on 304.6 acres on Rice Creek Road and bordered by the Bush River.

The Planning Commission held a public hearing on Nov. 16 for this project and the approval of the special use permit. No one spoke in opposition at the meeting, and the county has not received any other notification of anyone opposed. Supervisors unanimously recommended the approval with conditions.

During the public hearing, Joe Hines, a minority owner of the land with his brother and sister, encouraged the board to approve the permit. This land was his grandmother’s farm before her passing, he said. Being a small family farm, the family had limited options with what to do with the land.

“Once the family kind of grows up and moves away and people pass away, unfortunately, you don’t have much of a farming operation,” said Hines. “Since Dad died in 2011, we have looked at several different ways we could use this property for the good of the community and make some money on it versus losing money on it each year.”

According to Hines, the road has 40 to 60 vehicles on it a day, primarily hunters, making it one of the least traveled roads and a good location for the solar project. In addition, he and his siblings wanted to put the land to use for the community as they could not keep up the farm.

“After several years of looking at all these different options, we were able to come up with a solution,” said Hines. “In a lot of ways, it is almost a relief, at least to me, because I have been the one having to manage all the stuff, and it’s nice to have an option that is good for the environment. You know alternative energy is becoming a big deal. We see a lot of economic development showing up looking for an alternative energy mix within their power profile.”

In January, the board will meet again for another hearing about the citing agreement that goes with this project to get the building process officially started. CEP Solar hopes to have this project done by early 2023.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

The board recognized Coy W. Leatherwood for his 37 years of service as a building official. He will effectively retire on Dec. 31. He has the second-longest tenure as a building official in the commonwealth. Phillip A. Moore was approved to take his place on Jan. 1.

The board approved the Ordinance Amendment to amend and re-ordain Section 2-1300 of the Prince Edward County Code, Highway Corridor Overlay District, which regulates the use of land and other structures to maintain traffic safety as well as enhance the aesthetic of highway corridors. This will also cover new areas including Commerce and Dominion Drive and extends to the southern boundary along Farmville Road to its intersection with Abilene Road at Worsham.

The board approved the county’s and school district’s budget for fiscal year 2022 to include the $4,706,166.87 received from additional federal CARES Act- ESSER III funding.

New appointments and recommendations were made for upcoming vacancies. Russell Dove was recommended to the Circuit Court to fill the Board of Zoning Appeals position. Teresa Sandlin and Brad Fuller were appointed to the Prince Edward Planning Commission. Bernetta Watkins was appointed to the Crossroads Community Services Board.

A map has been released for proposed new legislative districts by the Supreme Court of Virginia. The whole county would remain in the 5th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives. However, for the state Senate, it would be split between Districts 9 and 10 and, for the House of Delegates, split between Districts 50 and 56. The board discussed how best to respond and decided to ask to keep the county whole as first priority.

Members of the board and town council are meeting with state Sen. Mark Peake and Delegate James Edmonds and want to put together priorities to discuss. The first is a 1% sales tax to support the remodeling of the elementary school. The second is to increase project spending. Third, the board opposes a change to the Freedom of Information Act that would give every citizen in the commonwealth eight free hours of records research per month, which county officials said would overwhelm even the best-staffed offices. Lastly, officials plan to seek salaries for local juvenile facilities workers to treat them equally with normal prison raises.

The Board of Supervisors approved and authorized the county administrator to sign an annual term contract with Davenport & Co. to provide financial advisory services.

The board approved the use of unused funds for floor repairs in the Health Department office as well as to replace outdated medical equipment and broken furniture.

A contract with Kinex was approved to replace the telephone system for the courthouse and Visitor’s Center and a 10% amount for any necessary change to include upgraded phones or cabling. This new plan will be safe, cheaper and more efficient in the long run, officials said.

An amendment was proposed for Appendix A of the Prince Edward County Code to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and recommendation regarding a 100-acre lot to plant timber. Approval was needed from the Health Department in case the lot was made into a building lot later and a septic system could be constructed.

The Board of Supervisors approved reducing public health emergency leave due to COVID-19. Originally in March 2020, the board approved leave of 160 hours. In August 2021, supervisors reduced it to 80 hours. Now, the 80 hours is a one-time allocation, and once used, the employee must use other leave. The thinking was with vaccines now widely available, it is time to move forward.

Chelsey White gave an update on the county’s economic development and tourism programs. Along with Cumberland and Lunenburg counties, the county has requested $15 million from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunication Initiative for a broadband expansion project. This project will reach 7,600 eligible locations in the three counties. Awards will be announced in late December.