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Crystal Hill solar farm becomes first to win permit / January 11, 2018
A 65-megawatt facility in Crystal Hill has become Halifax County’s first approved solar farm following a 7-1 vote by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors Monday night to issue a conditional use permit.

Roger Bowers, an attorney for Urban Grid Solar, the project developer, said he was “delighted” by the permit approval and pledged to “continue to work with the county with regards to any remaining issues concerning this project.”

Monday night’s approval comes with an costly string attached: Urban Grid must post a $1.8 million bond to cover the full estimated expense of decommissioning the site at the end of its 30-year approximate lifespan.

At a November public hearing of the county Planning Commission, Bowers requested that a provision of the solar ordinance be amended to allow Urban Grid to post a security bond of only $25,000, an amount sufficient to cover any administrative costs should Urban Grid fail to carry out the decommissioning.

The company argued that the salvage value of solar panels and other fixtures at the site would be more than enough to cover the future costs of dismantling the solar farm. The $25,000 for administrative expenses would ensure that the takedown of the site would proceed, whether by Urban Solar or a successor firm, the developers contended.

However, county planner Detrick Easley advised supervisors to hold firm on the bonding requirement and “not rely entirely on the estimated salvage value to cover the entire decommissioning costs.”

In this case, that means Urban Grid will pay approximately $1.6 million over the projected 30-year project life to maintain a security bond for $1,870,314.70.

Easley initially suggested that Urban Grid should post a bond equal to 10 percent of the decommissioning cost — $187,031 — but he also noted that other localities are requiring 100 percent coverage, the policy shared by Supervisors.

Heeding earlier requests by board members, Easley said he contacted several localities to find out their requirements for decommissioning security bonds. Mecklenburg County said they require 100 percent of the total cost estimate for decommissioning, while Charlotte County and Southampton County are in the process of amending their ordinances to require 100 percent up front.

In a public hearing Monday night during the regular board meeting, Bowers argued Urban Grid’s commitment “to remove the facility no matter what and restore the setting,” should negate the need for such a large security bond.” However, he added, “We defer to the board on its reasoning on what it chooses to do, and we look forward to the opportunity to move the project forward as the first solar project in Halifax County.”

Supervisors chairman Dennis Witt recommended leaving the ordinance wording on the decommissioning security in place and said “the salvage value at the end of 30 years is an unknown. The issue will be revisited as new information is available.”

The board discussed two other solar-related issues: project density and liability insurance. ED-7 Supervisor Garland Ricketts raised concerns that the ordinance did not specify the amount of property or liability insurance a developer must carry on sites. Easley, reading from the ordinance, said, “The company must provide proof of an adequate amount of insurance.” Witt suggested the Board move on.

The county solar ordinance and how closely it allows projects to be built next to each other came up again (as it had in a Dec. 4 meeting of the supervisors). County administrator James Halasz explained that Urban Grid, as the first applicant, is not affected and that subsequent applicants are only affected if the proposed solar farm is nearby one already approved.

With no further concerns raised, ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco moved for approval of Urban Grid’s conditional use permit with the new decommissioning security bond requirement.

With the permit approved on a 7-1 vote. Ricketts voted no.

After the public hearing, Bowers said he is just glad that the company can move forward with the project.

Bowers explained that the next step is to get a certification of local land use from the Department of Environmental Quality, a process that will take between 90-180 days. Best-case scenario is that the permitting process will be completed within a year, but Bowers added quickly, “It could be two.”

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