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Halifax planners eye tighter limits on solar projects / January 18, 2018

The Halifax County Planning Commission is backing a tighter limit on how many solar farms can be built in a five-mile radius as the number of proposed projects in the county climbs.

Meeting Tuesday night, the planning board voted unanimously to recommend a change in the county’s solar ordinance to address density requirements for solar development. The planners’ recommendation now will go to the Board of Supervisors, which must give its final approval.

The proposed change would require that solar farms take up no more than 2.5 percent of the land mass of any given area of Halifax County within a five-mile radius. The solar ordinance currently sets a density limit of 5 percent.

The change is intended to address concerns that solar farms could virtually consume some areas of the county, producing unintended effects.

A resident who spoke out in favor of changing the solar ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting, Russell Thurston, said he is in the process of creating “the largest commercial pecan farm in Virginia” west of Interstate 95 at his property on Stagecoach Road in Nathalie. Stagecoach Road is site of two of the county’s proposed solar projects.

Thurston said he fears that without tighter density restrictions, his property will be completely surrounded by solar farms, potentially causing a microclimate change which could damage his climate-sensitive pecan trees.

Solar energy developers who attended the planners’ meeting suggested that such concerns are misplaced, and that solar farms have actually been shown to help agricultural production because the projects include pollinator plants.

Adam Ventres, project manager for Hexagon Energy, described a recent situation where a 15-acre solar farm built next to a Minnesota blueberry farm caused production in the following year to increase by 80 percent, due to the addition of the pollinators.

Gerry Dudzik, chief operating officer of Carolina Solar Energy, also addressed the issue of “heat bubbles” associated with solar farms. He assured the commissioners that solar panels do not produce noticeable heat and offered to provide heat bubble test data from the North Carolina State University Solar Center.

The solar company representatives urged the Planning Commission to take care so as not to create other unintended side effects by amending the ordinance.

Chief among their concerns was the desire that projects in the application stage be grandfathered under the existing rules.

County Planning Administrator Detrick Easley said any unapproved application by the effective date voted on by the commission, must abide by the amendment. Easley showed commission members a map with all six pending applications drawn within its own five-mile radius. Alton Post Office was the only site with two solar farms side by side.

William Shewmake, representing Cypress Creek Renewables, cautioned that the effective date of the amendment should be far enough out so as to allow current applications to finish the approval process, and that the commission should “be careful about amendments or conditions that would handcuff the commission down the road.”

Shewmake further suggested that the application filing date should be used to determine which projects are grandfathered in under the current density rule.

Cypress Creek has two applications before the commission: The Water Strider project, an 80-megawatt facility north of Stage Coach Road in Nathalie situated on 1,134 acres, and the SB Solar project, a 10-megawatt solar farm between South Boston and Cluster Springs on 140 acres.

Rachel Donahue of Carolina Solar Energy echoed Shewmake’s concerns, and suggested the county’s conditional use permit process should provide the flexibility to “evaluate each project on a case by case basis and decide if it appropriate for the community.”

Donahue also encouraged the commission to consider only the array acreage instead of the total parcel acreage when calculating density.

Carolina Solar has submitted two applications to the commission. The Sunnybrook Creek Farm project is 51-megawatt facility on Clays Mill Road, situated on 340 acres, and the Powell’s Farm Solar project is a 70-megawatt facility on Alton Post Office Road, on 397 acres.

Drew Price, representing Hexagon Energy, a Charlottesville based company, agreed with Donahue’s concerns, and added one of his own — that landowners he is working with are worried that the larger projects will preclude smaller solar opportunities.

The commission agreed on a date of June 30, 2018 for the density amendment to take effect, providing a fixed deadline for solar developers to meet.

The requirement is pending final approval by county supervisors.

The motion, introduced by Hudson Reese, passed unanimously.

Before voting, the commissioners agreed to review only one conditional use permit a month, based on the Board of Supervisors’ preference to limit their consideration of solar projects to one per month.

The hearing schedule for the remaining five applications will be: Feb. 20 – Urban Grid Alton Post Office; March 20 – Carolina Solar Sunnybrook Creek Farm; April 17 – Carolina Solar Alton Post Office; May15 – Cypress Creek Water Strider Solar; June 19 – Cypress Creek SB Solar.

The three applications, anticipated but not filed, are from Hexagon Energy for a 15-megawatt facility south of Stage Coach Road in Nathalie, Hexagon Energy for a 80 –megawatt facility on Rodgers Chapel Road in Clover, and New Energy Ventures for a 15-megawatt facility off Dryburg Road in Clover.

These applications will be affected by the density changes in the ordinance.

In other business, the Planning Commission voted to re-elect Jim Davis as chairman and Mattie Cowan as vice-chairman. Meetings will continue to be held on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

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The Planning Commissioners get paid per meeting to attend by the County taxpayers and will only hear one solar site meeting per month?!! In past year's they did not have enough business to meet monthly so in doing this it pretty much ensures a payday for each member through the 2018 year. All taypayers should be greatly upset with this new development, as they could easily handle more than one public hearing per month with their limited workload. Disgusting.


Just to make it clear, Planning Commisonners do not get paid for their services. Only elected officials get paid.


@Unknown, Planning Commissioners DO get paid a stipend per meeting for attendance. Board of Supervisor members get paid and have the option for health insurance coverage under the county.


Pecan trees?? Can't we come up with a better excuse than that to ban the solar panels. Maybe acid rain, cancer causing agents, ugly, too shiny. We can come up with a better excuse than that to keep all of the broom straw fields and scrub trees that are making Halifax County look like a third world county. No matter that it would bring hundreds of thousands of tax dollars in and possibly help relieve us on the tax burden. I have never seen such a backwards place.


One commenter praised all the tax monies that the county will bring in, just how does he know how they are going to get these taxes from, and how is the power going to get from the solar farms, existing power company power lines or newly constructed lines, how about the meters on the houses, new ones or existing ones, I can't see the local power companies just giving the solar providers their resources, and how about the customers, will they have a choice in the matter, how about pricing, new vs exhisting, and what is a polinator, sounds like science fiction, Better ask some of these questions that better be clarified before they come back to bite you, including what about the supervisors, inducement monies, kickbacks, graft, remember they are only human, and don't walk on water, someone is going to make a pile of money of this, I doubt it is the landowner, and what about reliability?

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