Powhatan Board of Supervisors approves two solar projects

Resident Janet Turner was the first to speak during the public hearing for Powhatan Solar I’s conditional use permit application on Oct. 28.

POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors last week approved conditional use permits for two new solar projects in Powhatan County.

During the board’s meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, supervisors approved conditional use permits (CUPs) for Powhatan Solar I LLC and HCE Powhatan Solar I, although neither received unanimous support.

Powhatan Solar I LLC will be located on a property along Three Bridge Road near its intersection with Mill Mount Parkway and at the northern terminus of Brauer Road. The subject properties total approximately 927.38 acres, with the proposed use located within a project area that is approximately 350.9 acres. About 225 acres would be occupied by solar arrays.

The board of supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of approving the project, with chairwoman Angie Cabell, who represents District 3, David Williams, District 1, Bill Melton, District 4, and Carson Tucker, District 5, in support of the project. Larry Nordvig, District 2, voted against it.

The second project, HCE Powhatan Solar I, will be on Old Buckingham Road at its intersection with Spoonbill Drive (private road). The subject property totals approximately 89.52 acres, with the proposed use located within a project area of about 45 acres.

The board voted 3-0-2 in favor of the project, with Cabell, Williams, and Melton supporting it and Nordvig and Tucker abstaining.

Powhatan Solar I LLC

Parker Sloan once again represented Cypress Creek Renewables on the second hearing for Powhatan Solar I LLC. The case was deferred at the board’s Sept. 23 meeting after family members involved in the LLC that owns properties being leased to the Cypress Creek raised issues about not knowing about the project.

Tom Lacheney, county attorney, said last week that necessary changes to the ownership part of the application had been updated and the county doesn’t have any concerns regarding possible disputes about authorizing the use of the land by the LLCs.

At the Oct. 28 hearing, the main topics of conversation were the buffers and where construction traffic would enter and exit the property during the construction of the solar farm.

At the Sept. 23 meeting, the board heard from several Brauer Road residents who were concerned that the construction entrance to the property was located on their road, which they said could not handle that kind of traffic. Sloan said the company didn’t have a preference so the board agreed to change the construction entrance to Three Bridge Road.

During last week’s public hearing, nine residents from the area spoke, offering their opinions on those topics and a few others.

Janet Turner, president of the West Lake Section I Homeowners Association, asked the board to strongly reconsider having the entrance on Three Bridge Road because fewer residents would be impacted on Brauer Road. She talked about neighbors having to deal with several months of logging trucks that were leaving the property when the timber was being harvested, including the damage they caused to the road shoulders and the negative impacts on traffic.

Turner asked for more of a buffer between Three Bridge Road and the solar panels so that the view of the solar farm would not depreciate home values in the area. She also asked that the company put the remainder of the property not being used for this project into a conservation to restrict expansion of the solar farm.

Kyle Leatherwood, whose neighborhood is near the site, echoed concerns with the construction traffic, again referencing the problems they had with the logging trucks, and property values. He also expressed concerns about contaminants from damaged solar panels leaking into the ground and contaminating the ground water.

Edwin Utt, a resident of Brauer Road, spoke to the board for a second time to advocate not having the entrance on Brauer Road. He said it is too narrow and only has one access point, meaning in case of an accident first responders couldn’t get through.

Several other residents echoed some or all of these concerns as well as asking for more detail about the buffers and about how grass would be kept down and the herbicides that would be used.

The board and Cypress Creek staff had lengthy conversation about the height of the panels and the types of existing or new buffer measures they will use to help shield the view of the project from Three Bridge Road. They discussed how the property is monitored remotely to know when there are issues or damage that need to be repaired and cleaned up.

They discussed vegetation maintenance, with Sloan agreeing they would not leave glyphosate as an herbicide. They also talked about buffers to homes and water sources on the project.

The board wanted to know about plans for the rest of the property and the possibility of a second phase being brought forward. Sloan said the company has discussed the idea of a second phase but it would be an entirely separate project that the company is not proposing at this point.

Tucker pointed out that he understands local residents’ concerns about a second project coming. He said the board is trying to be more thoughtful than it has been in the past and avoid “piecemeal development.”

“I hope to God you are not playing games with us,” Tucker said.

When the board approved the CUP application, they did not recommend a change of the construction entrance, which is listed in the board packet as being on Three Bridge Road.

HCE Powhatan Solar I

Davis Plunkett gave a brief presentation for Holocene Clean Energy’s proposed solar project off of Old Buckingham Road. He said the company focuses on small projects.

The HCE Powhatan Solar I will interconnect to Southside Electric Cooperative’s power grid to be put on the local distribution system to be used locally, he said.

Plunkett’s presentation mentioned some highlights of the projects, such as a 200-foot buffer comprised partly of dense vegetation that will completely hide it from the view of the road. The project will bring in tax revenues that exceed what the undeveloped property currently generates, and the company is willing to make a contribution to a conservation fund for the county and fire and rescue.

One of the key points in discussion about this solar farm is a battery energy storage system that will be located there and what safety measures will be in place in case there is a problem.

After hearing the earlier solar presentation, Plunkett agreed not to use hazardous chemicals as herbicides.

During the public hear, two people spoke. Bobby Gentry said he was not against the solar farm but wanted to make sure he couldn’t see it from his property. He also raised issue with fences taking away room for wildlife movement and concerns about safety related to the battery storage system.

Plunkett reiterated the safety measures in place for the battery storage and how local fire and rescue will be instructed in case of a malfunction.

Kyle Leatherwood referenced a story for another solar farm having to run a dedicated fiber optic line to its solar farm because “there was too much bandwidth being used of Comcast’s high speed internet in this county.” He asked how this and the previous solar farm might impact residents’ high speed internet.

Board members asked Plunkett about the bandwidth issue but he said the project won’t have a continuous stream of data. He had not heard about the other solar farm needed to lay a fiber optic line so he couldn’t answer questions about it.

The uncertainty the resident raised with the possibility of affecting residents’ bandwidth caused enough doubt for Tucker and Nordvig to both abstain for lack of clarification before the vote.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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