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Bailey offers $500,000 to town, hinging on county action

SoVaNow.com / October 04, 2017
Local tobacco farmer and cigarette company owner Mac Bailey has offered to donate $500,000 to the Town of Chase City to use as it pleases, provided Mecklenburg County grants permission for a solar energy company to build an industrial-scale array on 946 acres that Bailey owns just outside of town at the intersection of Highways 47 and 49.

Bailey made the offer of the donation — which would go to the town, not the county — during a Wednesday public meeting called by Geenex to garner local support for their proposed 80 megawatt, utility-scale solar farm.

Chase City Town Council previously voted to back the Geenex project, nicknamed “Grasshoppper,” along with other solar farms proposed around town. Its fate lies with the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, which must decide whether to grant a permit to allow construction.

Bailey said he made the offer because he considers Chase City home, even though he lives in Lunenburg County, where S&M Brands is located. Telling Council members that he wants to see the town succeed, Bailey also said he wanted to put to rest a charge made by local attorney Kathy Keel that he cares nothing for Chase City. Keel made the claim during two public hearings, one in Chase City and again before the Board of Supervisors.

Bailey also promised to return the money that Geenex paid him for his land, if the Board of Supervisors refuses to approve the permit for the solar farm.

The $500,000 offer stunned many in the audience, including Chase City Mayor Eddie Bratton who came to Bailey’s defense against allegations that Bailey was attempting to buy support for the project. Bratton noted that Town Council sent a letter supportive of the project over three months ago to the Board of Supervisors. Additionally, several hundred town residents signed a petition in favor of the solar farms.

These signatures were gathered before the meeting Wednesday night, which was the first time Bailey offered money to the town.

Bailey explained, “In my heart I thought I was doing a good thing. I never want to hurt anyone or the town.” Which is why, he continued, he was surprised by both the reaction of the Board of Supervisors and certain people in the town to the Grasshopper facility.

He also wondered what other uses could be made of the land in question. “Before I purchased it, the area was overgrown, and there are several power lines that cross the site. I don’t see anyone putting a housing development there, and I’m getting on in years, looking to consolidate my farming. Do I let the land return to what it was before?”

Aside from the Bailey offer, Wednesday’s meeting offered no new information about the proposed Geenex project. Kara Price, who serves as the project manager said, “We haven’t changed the scope of the project, our mission now is to reach out to a broader audience.” Previous discussions about the Grasshopper project were limited to nearby property owners and public officials.

Officials with Geenex stand by their claims that the Grasshopper solar project will create local jobs for several years because other solar projects will move to the area. They also contend that major data centers and modern manufacturing facilities will look more favorably at locating here because of the locality’s receptiveness to green energy. Equally important, they say the facility will serve as an educational resource for teachers and school children studying alternative energy.

As to those who decry the loss of agricultural land, Price says less than one percent of land converted from agricultural use was turned into a solar farm. Far more was developed with housing.

The biggest concern among residents was how this new power generating plant would impact them – would it reduce their electric bills and would it cause an interruption of or improvement to their electrical service.

It was clear from the questions that several residents believed that they could purchase electric power for their home directly from Geenex. Tommy Nelson with BayWa, the company that will install the solar farm, if approved, said power generated at the Chase City solar farm would be sold to PJM, a regional transmission company that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity throughout the mid-Atlantic region. PJM is a neutral, independent party operating within the wholesale electricity market, which allows its customers to make cost-effective, spot purchases of energy.

Despite this news, most appeared pleased when Nelson explained that solar energy, over time, would drive down the cost of energy bills since it cost less to generate solar power than it does to generate power from traditional coal or propane powered facilities.

They expressed little concern over the fact that once the farm is built, the company will employ fewer than five workers at the site. Those working there will be lawn maintenance personnel. During construction Nelson predicted a workforce of approximately 150, which he claimed would be hired locally though BayWa does not require this of their subcontractors. The construction phase lasts less than 12 months.

Nelson also explained the difference between Geenex, a power generating company and Dominion a power transmission company. If a homeowner suffers a loss of power, Nelson said it would be up to their power transmission company to restore that service.

As to why Geenex and other companies appear to favor Chase City area for their plants, Walter Putnam with Geenex said there are three main reasons, all which relate to cost: relatively cheap, flat cleared land, an existing power grid, and an underutilized substation nearby that can be easily accessed.

In November 2016, the Charlotte, N.C.-based Geenex corporation applied for a special exception permit to turn a 946-acre farm owned by Mac Bailey into an 80-megawatt solar farm, generating enough electricity to power 15,000 homes. Geenex said it planned to sell electrical output on the general power grid.

Shortly after filing for the permit, the project hit a snag. First, County Administrator Wayne Carter questioned if the school division would lose money from the state because of the composite index – the funding formula for schools which is tied to the valuation of property.

An April 6 letter from state Tax Commissioner Craig Burns confirmed that his department would “exclude the exempt value of the [solar farm] property from the true value of real estate and [public sector corporation] property in the county.”

With that resolved, Planning Commission members then expressed concern over the lack of guidance for approving or denying solar farm permit applications. At the time, neither the comprehensive plan nor the zoning code contained provisions for utility-scale farms.

Though the new rules the County is expected to approve do not apply to Geenex, Price believes they “set the tone and the define the expectations of the County when it comes to solar farms.” In short, she believes the rules will be the reason their permit gets denied. So far, no vote has occurred and Geenex’s permit remains pending.



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UMMMM... There is a name for this, what is it called again? Oh I know.. PUBLIC CORRUPTION! Yeah the Federal Government has PRISONS for such people who engage in this.


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