Hearing held for solar farm

Published 4:15 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Only one person spoke during a public hearing held by the Charlotte County Planning Commission last week seeking public comment regarding a conditional use permit to operate a 15 megawatt utility scale solar energy system near Drakes Branch in the area of the intersection of Highway 59 and Ingleside Lane.

Twitty’s Creek Solar LLC is seeking the permit.

Resident Reed Charlton posed several questions relating to the proposed project to commissioners.

“It appears to me that the only latitude the commission has is to assign the widths of the setbacks,” Charlton said. “You all can do that, can’t you?”

Charlotte County Purchasing Agent and Planner Monica Elder said a zoning amendment was adopted in 2016, which included setback information as well as buffer zones.

“As long as they’re meeting those requirements…,” said Elder. “I think we probably will be revisiting it.”

Elder said the county has looked at paperwork from l Buckingham, Accomack, and Southampton counties.

The planning commission meeting included updated information relating to the project.

Elder said there has been a recent rise in the amount of solar applications across Southside Virginia though Charlotte County only has one pending.

“One of the reasons we’re seeing a lot of development here in Southside is the low cost of land, availability of large tracts near substations, the capacity of the power grids and also the decrease in the solar equipment cost,” Elder said.

The proposed project by Holocene Clean Energy would be located at 1975 Highway Fifty-Nine in the Drakes Branch area.

Elder said the 75-acre property would be leased for 20 years originally with renewal for two five-year terms.

According to Holocene Clean Energy Chief Financial Officer Stan Allison, his company has been working on the project since 2015.

He said the project would have little to no visibility from the highway and the purchase of power would be from Dominion or an industrial customer under a long-term contract.

In addition, he said the panels used would be non-toxic and the site will be secured by a fence. The panels can be replaced as needed through the lifespan of the project.

Allison said some of the advantages of the facility would be the possibility of 200-250 workers during a 3-4 month construction period, the potential of ongoing maintenance jobs and the Dominion Power owning the substation.

Months ago, planners held a hearing on the permit application, which has been amended, according to Elder.

“The original hearing for the … application was postponed to allow the county to research several additional issues related to the project,” Elder said in a previous interview. “We have been working with the county attorney on these issues for several months and the planning commission now feels they are ready to move forward with the hearing.”

In the meantime, there have been several changes to the application, including only two landowners involved as opposed to the three previously and an updated site plan.

“Originally there were three landowners involved, William Hall, C.E. and Bonnie Hall and Donald and Margaret Barnum. William Hall purchased the Barnum property in March, so now there are only two landowners involved,” Elder said.

“The developer has provided an updated site plan showing a disturbed area of 91.4 acres. The entire leased area will be approximately 134 acres,” she said.

According to Elder, the county’s Zoning Ordinance requires that the facility be removed when it is no longer operational and the cost of decommissioning the facility be guaranteed in case the owner or operator of the solar facility fails to remove it. “Originally the developer had proposed using the salvage value of the equipment as the guarantee. The developer is now proposing to guarantee the decommissioning with a combination of escrow and salvage value,” she said.

Previously the planning commission requested a joint public hearing with the board of supervisors, Elder said. “There will now be two separate hearings; one for the planning commission and a later hearing conducted by the board.”

“It is located in our agricultural district,” Elder said last week.

“(Holocene is) proposing to contribute a total of $602,000 through annual deposits over the course of the 30-year lease to a reserve fund to be held by Charlotte County to cover costs of removing the system if the owner fails to do so,” said Elder.