POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Planning Commission recommended approval last week of one solar farm but said another needed more work before it was ready for a final vote.

During the planning commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, the commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of recommending approval of Powhatan Solar I LLC’s request for a conditional use permit (CUP) for a solar energy farm.

The project, which will now move forward to review by the board of supervisors, would be placed 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 four commissioners present also voted unanimously to defer a request for a CUP from HCE Powhatan Solar I with the reasoning that they wanted more specificity in how the project would be laid out and run. The proposed project would 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.

Powhatan Solar I LLC

Parker Sloan represented Cypress Creek Renewables with a presentation on its proposed solar farm along Three Bridge Road. The proposed project would reach a maximum capacity of 18 megawatts.

If approved, construction would begin in late 2020 and would be expected to last six to 10 months, he said. After construction if finished, the company expects to generate one vehicle per month in terms of traffic trips to the facility.

Sloan discussed several benefits of the project: $25,000 in revenue in the first year and $1.3 million over the life of the facility and 200-foot stream and wetland setbacks that will promote wildlife and water quality.

A big discussion topic was the visibility of the arrays from Three Bridge Road. The project consists of about 12,000 feet (2.25 miles) of frontage along Three Bridge Road.

The project’s 200-foot buffer would include 75 feet of existing trees; 50 feet of planted evergreens and shrubs; a meadow; a fence, and an access road between the solar arrays and Three Bridge Road, Sloan said. However, the evergreens and shrubs will take a few years to mature, so the project may be visible in places.

Bill Cox, who represents District 4, said the planning commission needs to be clearer about sticking to the standard of not having a solar project visible from the road. David Van Gelder, District 5, posed the idea of giving the project a “reasonable timeframe” to meet that standard if they are making a concerted effort to limit the project’s visibility. Cox disagreed but others seemed to be OK with the company’s “good faith effort” to limit visibility.

Three people also spoke during a public hearing to voice concerns about heat and light from the solar panels, the condition of Brauer Road, the decommissioning guarantee, and property values.

Some of the other issues discussed were:

* Construction traffic – the applicant proposed restricting access to construction traffic to an entrance on Brauer Road so they were not going directly onto Three Bridge Road. The company agreed to a $200,000 bond in case of the need for road maintenance on public roads.

* Decommissioning – Concerns were raised about what would happen to the solar farm if Cypress Creek Renewables closed. Per the county’s code, the company has a decommissioning plan and has committed to submit a surety bond to cover the cost of removal if the owner failed to do so.

* Second solar farm – Sloan said there is a potential for a second standalone solar facility on the property that would not be considered a “second phase.” Cox said that looked like a way to get around the concerns of having a larger solar farm. Sloan said it is unlikely a second project could work there but they will not get a study to know if the project is workable from Dominion until late 2020. He would not agree to a condition to prohibit building a second solar farm.

* Chair Karin Carmack, District 1, had previously recommended forming a conservation and recreation foundation that could potentially capture revenue and receive land donations meant to bolster open space and parks and recreation in the county. If that happens, Sloan said the company would work with the county to participate.

HCE Powhatan Solar I

Stephen Young, solar development manager for Holocene Clean Energy, said HCE Powhatan Solar would be a small-scale, 5 megawatt project that would involve 23.5 acres of fenced in area but only 8.2 acres of solar arrays. Holocene has an interconnect agreement with Southside Electric for the power.

Two people spoke during the public hearing asking about the entrance’s location on Old Buckingham Road; the affect on wildlife and hunting in the area to have this fenced in area, and the project’s proximity to one property owner’s land.

The main topic of discussion on this case was about the entrance and roadway location. Young said VDOT will nail down the safest and best location for the access points. The planning commissioners did not like the lack of detail and specificity for a final project layout.

Van Gelder told Young it is up to the developer to “sell” them on the project and answer their questions and there wasn’t enough specificity for him.

“It is not up to us to demonstrate how it’s all going to work,” he said.

Cox also had questions about having a battery energy storage system on the property and its safety measures. Young assured the commissioners it will meet the standards laid out by the National Fire Protection Association.

Regarding visibility, Cox said this company’s planned buffers using existing vegetation “probably provides the best barrier we have seen from a road.”

At this point, Van Gelder again raised his concerns about the lack of specificity and the planning commission voted to defer the case until its October meeting.

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

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