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Large-Scale Solar Installation Gets Approval and Moves to Board

The Chesterfield County Planning Commission unanimously recommended the county’s fifth large-scale solar power installation for approval last week following a working session to refine zoning ordinances dedicated to such projects.

At its July meeting, the County Board of Supervisors will hear the case brought by 360 Solar Center LLC, owned by Charlottesville-based parent company Sun Tribe, which is proposing a 52-megawatt, 1,932-acre solar facility in the district of Matoaca. The property is comprised of seven agricultural zoned parcels south of Hull Street Road approximately 3 miles from the Amelia County line; the electricity produced by the facility would be transferred directly to Dominion Energy.

“Over the past couple of months we’ve heard ‘the gold standard’, the ‘platinum standard’ and all these different standards – this case is just one good environmental standard,” said the president of the Planning Commission and Matoaca Representative, Tom Owens. “They really took into account the topography of the land, the way the water flows over the properties. … All the things we look for in our solar prescription to help protect our environmental concerns are integral to this case.

The case, which staff also recommended for approval, passed the 3-0 panel following four public comments from neighbors in favor of the project. Clover Hill Commissioner Gloria Freye backed out of the case, citing a conflict of interest over her husband receiving a pension from Dominion Energy. Freye did not participate in the review, discussion or vote. Midlothian Commissioner Frank Petroski was not present at last week’s meeting. The solar installation – which has an estimated operational life of 40 years – would occupy 1,470 of the nearly 2,000 acres across seven parcels owned by individual landowners, with panels limited to 437 acres on site. The acreage outside the solar power installation will retain its civic cultural use as permitted in the Agricultural District.

Planning Department case manager Marianne Pitts assured commissioners that the plaintiff is working closely with staff to meet, if not exceed, expectations of the revised solar code changes that the Commission will formally vote on after a hearing. public at the July 19 meeting. In addition to the order’s settlements, which include the location of planned transmission lines and the decommissioning of facilities, Pitts said the plaintiff has proposed terms to: limit access; require the right of dedication; prohibit the installation of solar panels on steep slopes; prioritize native plants and landscaping; ban certain herbicides; provide additional setbacks from residential properties, wetlands, 100-year floodplains and resource protection areas; limiting opening hours for construction activities and truck traffic; provide wildlife corridors through fences; and also provide a public liaison to share information with its surrounding neighbors.

“One of the other things that is very attractive about this property is that given its location relative to Dominion facilities, it won’t require any battery storage, it won’t require any type of substation,” said attorney William Shewmake, agent for 360 Solar, explaining that the connection will be through what is called a “five pole reg”, which resembles traditional power lines. “The other thing that is very attractive about this property is that there has been extensive research, and there is no indication in any state or other records that there was any mining. mining on this property. It has been thoroughly reviewed under DEQ clearance. And there are no obstructions or anything of concern on this property, which is another advantage.”

Due to the size of the total area and the layout of the solar panels, buffers and setbacks in many areas exceed 2,000 feet of any residential property, which Shewmake said was a priority for the plaintiff and his neighbors. . Additionally, due to the size of the property, the applicant was able to avoid steep slopes, wetlands, watercourses, resource protection areas and floodplains while maintaining three wildlife corridors. Construction is expected to take 10 to 12 months, and Shewmake said operations will be quiet with “virtually no traffic once it’s built.”

Sun Tribe has a reputation for working with communities in delivering its renewable energy services and has partnered with the county on other buildings and properties. Maintaining such relationships was also a priority in developing the 360 ​​Solar project, and Shewmake said maintaining the rural character of the area was of paramount importance.

“There have been various concerns lately in the western part of the county: ‘Is there going to be massive growth in this area?’ And one of the things that this project does that people have really liked is that it secures representation and promise for the county,” Shewmake said. “Our goal is to make ourselves invisible to neighbors. , as you will see if you were to look, there are very few actually occupied residential properties around this, unlike some other projects that come up.

This feeling was reinforced during the public hearing by the four speakers – all local residents – who spoke to the commissioners in favor of the project and alluded to their positive experiences of working with the applicant, some dating back to 2020.

Joanne Scott Webb, resident of Chesdin Landing Drive, explained that her family had been in arboriculture for several generations and had run a logging business for two decades; the challenge, she said, is to keep the land intact for future generations, and while timber prices rose in 2020 during the pandemic, log prices remained stagnant.

“Solar provides a much-needed revenue diversion for arborists to conserve our trees, our land, our trees and our farms,” Webb said.

Also in 2020, she said, her husband received more than 80 pages of detailed information from Sun Tribe on “probably the largest undeveloped stretch of Chesterfield close to civilization” and that analysis of the company was thorough.

“We learned many details about our property that none of us knew about,” Webb said, adding that his family had also done their due diligence on the business, as they were the third-largest development organization. solar to consider such a project.

“They demonstrate and practice a sincere concern for those they work with – landowners, neighbors and the community as a whole,” Webb said. “They managed to make the connection. We are confident that they know what they are doing and will do it right.

Skyler Zunk, a resident of Deer Range Road, echoed Webb’s sentiments, noting that his family has also lived in this part of the county for several generations and his appreciation for the plaintiff’s outreach to neighbors, which included a community meeting with the commissioner. Owens, and its commitment to keep the rural area.

“I think it’s everyone’s top priority on Deer Range Road to make sure a Magnolia Green isn’t built in our backyard, and there are no more red lights. descending on 360 farther west,” Zunk said. “We think it’s a phenomenal use of land. Just as I would expect my neighbors to help me build an extra house, shed, whatever, on my own land, I will help our neighbors build a solar array on their land.

Charles Aardema, another Deer Range Road resident and local beekeeper, told the commissioners that after raising concerns about herbicides that might be used, the claimant assured him that any chemicals would be environmentally friendly.

During his presentation, Shewmake reiterated the company’s commitment to Virginia’s native grasses and pollinators, adding that Sun Tribe worked diligently with the county’s environmental engineering staff throughout the process.

“We are not located in the upper Swift Creek Reservoir and are part of it, avoiding steep grades of 20% or more,” Shewmake said. “We are not going to impact surrounding properties, wells or anything like that. …I think that represents a gold standard of how you should treat a project.

During the commission’s business session, planning staff presented proposed code amendment language to the zoning ordinance requirements for large-scale solar power installations to include: 35-foot setbacks additional wetlands, 100-year floodplains and resource protection areas; steep slopes remaining in their undisturbed natural state to the greatest extent possible; and solar panels are not installed on steep slopes of 20% or more.

After some discussion, Gib Sloan, the Bermuda District Commissioner, asked staff to rephrase the language [in what document?] to indicate that any disturbance on slopes greater than 20% must have the express approval of the Department of Environmental Engineering before the changes are presented to the body for a public hearing in July.

“I think every step of the way the county has taken an incredibly proactive stance as we move into this renewable space,” Sloan said at the end of the 360 ​​Solar public hearing before he, Owens and Commissioner Dale LeQuan Hylton did not vote in favor of the deal.

Sloan also praised the work of several county departments since the onslaught of writing the original solar ordinance in 2019 to “refine and strengthen” citizen protections.

The 360 ​​Solar case would be the county’s fifth large-scale installation if approved by the board of supervisors. The first, the Virginia Power Plant at 4100 Bermuda Hundred Road, was approved in 2014 on 10.8 acres, planning for 5 megawatts of power generation. The second was the Chester Solar Technology Park located at 13301 Bradley Bridge Road on 1,675 acres with a planned output of up to 150 megawatts; Winterpock Solar is located at 13341 Eppes Falls Road on 329 acres with a planned output of 20 megawatts; most recently, the Board of Supervisors approved NexAmp Inc. on 45 acres at 2501 Mt. Hermon Road with a planned power generation of 5 megawatts.

“We moved away from a lot of other localities as we continued to focus on building on the slopes, trying to combat runoff [and] learn from a lot of exercises,” Sloan said. “With that, I’m extremely happy to support this case because I think it continues to rely, quite frankly, on the gold standard that I think the county as a whole is adopting is as we move into this space and can continue to consider additional cases. ¦