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Solar farm concerns aired

The Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) spent more than an hour hearing concerns from citizens about the planned Courthouse Solar project which would establish a 1,354-acre solar farm in Charlotte Court House.

The public hearing on Monday evening, Dec. 14, was for a conditional use permit application for the proposed 167-megawatt utility-scale solar farm.

Though the board made no decision, many citizens publicly addressed and sent written comments concerning the endeavor.

County Administrator Dan Witt said no decision was expected following the meeting as his staff still needs to work out details of the conditions and have those reviewed by the county attorney.

Witt said there could be a potential vote on the project during the board’s January meeting. Several citizens are asking for the county to take plenty of time to carefully consider the ramifications of such a large solar farm installation and its impact on the area.

According to the application summary, NOVI Energy proposes to construct a solar facility on 1,354 acres just southwest of Charlotte Court House on 12 parcels owned by Blue Rock Resources, LLC, Ridgeway Farm LLC, and Robert Locke.

One concern brought to the county Planning Commission twice and to the BOS during Monday evenings meeting was the site’s main construction entrances.

Shady Oaks Road, just off of Route 40, was labeled to be one of the main construction entrances and was brought into question by Lynn Royster, developer of the Shady Oaks residential area, who cited potential safety traffic issues.

For months Royster has said that the entrance is not suitable because close to 20 residential homes, many with small children, are located on Shady Oaks Road.

During Monday’s public hearing, Royster told BOS members he and NOVI Energy had signed an agreement to use another portion of his land for the entrance avoiding the Shady Oaks Road.

“The well-being of the people and the children who live there was my concern,” Royster said. “I have no other problems going forward with the solar farm.”

Attorney Edward Early sent a written statement to the BOS asking that the project’s decision be postponed for another month or two.

“We are in favor of solar power, but under conditions that do the least harm,” Early said. “Apparently, planning for this proposed Courthouse, Solar Project began secretly at least a year ago, without notice until recently.”

Early said zoning was changed without proper notice and planning commission members asked few questions, disregarding citizens’ concerns about highway safety, watershed, and the habitat.

Alex Quarrier asked the BOS to postpone the decision into the new year.

Quarrier, who owns neighboring historic property to the proposed solar development, said studies of environmental and wetlands, setbacks, height restrictions, and impacts to neighboring land values and property taxes were needed.

“The proposed development will impact our county for the next 30 to 40-plus years,” Quarrier said. “I am requesting your careful consideration to postpone this decision.

Our first notification of this development was a letter from the planning commission on Oct. 9 and believe this is not enough time to understand the long-term implications of this development.”

Clarke Hogan, president of Ontario Hardwood Company said he was in favor of the project.

“The local taxes that will be generated over the next couple of decades will help pay the county’s bills and will lessen the need to raise the levies on existing businesses and individuals,” Hogan said. “The impact on the environment from this project and others like it is negligible. It would be hard to imagine a tax-generating industry that would have less impact on the resident’s quality of life.”

Gene Hall, owner of Red Oak Excavating, also said he was in favor of the solar project, telling the board that solar farms can be a great asset to the community not only from a tax standpoint but from a local business perspective.

“If solar farms come to our area, it provides opportunities for local contractors like myself to do the commercial construction keeping employees working in our community,” Hall said.