20K-acre solar farm proposed

Published 10:58 am Thursday, June 24, 2021

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A Reston solar company has applied to the county to construct one of the largest solar facilities in the country.

SolUnesco CEO Francis Hodsoll confirmed Friday, June 18, the company had filed its application for an 800 megawatt (MW) solar facility to be located in the Randolph area of Charlotte County.

“We are aware of at least one other project under development in the U.S. that would be larger than Randolph Solar at 850 MW,” Hodsoll said, “Within Virginia, there are eight projects under development that are 500 MW or larger and one other 800 MW project under development. While the challenges of identifying enough available and suitable land for 800 MW make these projects less common, Randolph is certainly not unique as a size category.”

The Randolph Solar project was originally set to be a 500 MW facility. Once SolUnesco learned that another developer was attempting to develop and interconnect a 100 MW project to the 500 kilovolt line, Hodsoll said plans changed.

“We evaluated their property and determined their property would only support a fraction of the 100 MW transmission interconnection,” Hodsoll said. “Further, our project surrounded their project. So, we decided to purchase their project.

Hodsoll said given the drawn-out negotiations with the developer and the status of their efforts to sign up land, SolUnesco decided to add a 200 MW interconnection as insurance in case the negotiations to purchase the 100 MW failed.

“We subsequently closed with the other developer, and hence we ended up with three interconnection requests of 500, 200, and 100,” Hodsoll said.

Last summer, the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted 6 to 1 to approve a zoning amendment change that allowed for more density in the construction of utility-scale solar farms in a five-mile radius. Thus, making way for SolUnesco’s project.

Before that change, the county’s zoning ordinance limited utility-scale solar density to 3% in any given five-mile radius.

SolUnesco’s expressed interest in constructing a utility-scale solar facility exceeded that previous density in the Randolph area.

This change does not approve the Randolph area solar farm itself.

SolUnesco must apply for various permits and public hearings before the BOS can vote on the project’s approval.

According to the company’s application for the Randolph Solar project, there would be 20,000 total acres under site control, with 5,800 acres buildable. Charlotte County is made up of 306,000 acres meaning the Randolph solar project would encompass 6.5% of the county’s land.

According to Hodsoll, the project has multiple property owners, with one property owner who Hodsoll would not disclose seeking a large buy-out of his property.

Hodsoll said in total, more than 150 landowners may benefit from this project.

According to the CEO, the Randolph location provided the perfect area for the project because the company has sufficient land and can be flexible where the panels are placed.

“The property is predominantly located in remote areas, with natural vegetation and topography that minimizes visibility from neighboring parcels,” Hodsoll said, “In the limited instances where neighboring property could see the project, we will buffer these property lines as provided for in our application and the Charlotte ordinance.”

SolUnesco officials said the project would benefit the county in many ways.

Job creation and income for the county were two benefits Hodsoll said citizens could look forward to.

According to Hodsoll, Randolph Solar will create more than 1,000 full-time-equivalent job-years during the project’s construction, $40.8 million in associated labor income, and $132.5 million in economic output. During operations, the project will provide an additional $6.6 million in annual financial benefit.

“Local small businesses and restaurants will sell food, gasoline, groceries, clothes, etc., to these workers,” he said. “Dozens of Charlotte County businesses will benefit from the foot traffic of workers who need the daily necessities.”

Under the solar revenue share, the Randolph project will pay Charlotte County an additional $1.5 million in taxes in the first year of operations and $113.7 million from the project, assuming a 50-year operational life.

According to Assistant County Administrator Monica Elder, SolUnesco’s application materials are being reviewed by staff for completeness and will likely be revised prior to review by the Planning Commission.

In addition to Randolph, SolUnesco currently has a conditional use permit for the Moody Creek Solar project located in the county.

The Moody Creek Solar project calls for the construction of a 150-megavolt utility-scale solar facility (equivalent to 25,000 homes worth of energy). The proposed site, owned by Devin Logging Company/John A. Devin, Jr. and Armistead Tune Devin, is located on Route 47, Crafton’s Gate Highway, approximately 1.4 miles east of the traffic light at the intersection of Highway 360/15 and Route 47.

The Moody Creek project is set to be constructed on property that is approximately 1,655 acres in size.