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Mecklenburg supes turn down community solar projects in close range of towns

SoVaNow.com / July 14, 2021


The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors denied two requests from Dimension Renewable Energy to install community solar projects near Clarksville and Chase City during Monday’s monthly meeting in Boydton.

In June, the county planning commission recommended the denial of permits for the two proposed community solar projects due to their proximity to the Towns of Clarksville and Chase City. Both solar facilities — one proposed for Gordon Brothers Farm at 294 Noblin Farm Road, the other proposed for Highway 92 on the Michael Garnett property — are within a mile of Clarksville and Chase City town limits, respectively.

Atlanta-based Dimension Renewable Energy appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors, which heard the appeal on Monday before voting down both requests.

Supervisors rejected the permit applications despite differing stands taken by residents and community leaders towards the projects. The vote to deny the Gordon Farm/Clarksville project was 8-0 and on the Highway 92/Chase City project failed on a 6-1-1 vote.

On the latter request, supervisor Claudia Lundy abstained, and Charles Jones voted for the project.

Board Chair Glenn Barbour, Vice Chair Glanzy Spain and board members Jim Jennings, Sterling Wilkinson, Andy Hargrove, and Tom Tanner voted against the proposed Chase City solar facility. Supervisor David Brankley was absent from the meeting.

Kiernan Siao, director of development for Dimension Renewable Energy, and company attorney Matt Roberts offered several reasons why the two proposed community solar projects were in keeping with Mecklenburg County’s comprehensive plan and should be approved.

Siao explained that the community solar program, which is born out of Virginia’s shared solar law, is limited in size and scope. Unlike utility-scale solar arrays, community solar projects provide credits to Dominion Energy customers that they can in turn use to offset the costs of their power bills.

Siao described community solar as akin to residential solar panels installed atop homes because of the small megawattage produced — 5 megawatt, a fraction of the energy produced by utility-scale solar facilities.

In the case of community solar, “it is as if the panels were taken from all the homes in one community and aggregated in one location.”

He added that the program is consumer-friendly by providing a direct benefit to residential energy users. Virginia’s solar law further calls for 30 percent of the subscribers to be low-income. “It’s a great benefit to the people most in need.”

The limited size of each project — no more than 25 acres — and the fact that community solar interconnects with low voltage distribution lines, not transmission lines, makes it easier to hide community solar projects from public view and to tuck them away into smaller venues, what Siao called “locations that make sense to the community.”

Matt Roberts, attorney for Dimension Renewable Energy, said that in the view of the develop, the planning commission’s recommendation to deny both proposals was in error. He said the reason given by members of the planning commission for opposing the requests — that the language in the County comprehensive plan discourages the building of solar facilities within a mile town limits — was a misreading of the actual language of the comprehensive plan.

The more appropriate interpretation, according to Roberts, is that solar facilities built within the one-mile limit can be smaller in scale, not utility-scale. “It is not a mandate,” Roberts said, adding “because they [Dimension’s two proposed community solar projects] are within that [one-mile] limit they should be subjected to extra mitigation aspects.”

Former county supervisor Gregg Gordon, one of the owners of the Noblin Farm Road site where the Clarksville area project would have been developed, suggested that county would engage in an unreasonable property taking by denying the opportunity to construct small-scale solar projects on any property within one mile of a town. By taking that position, Gordon said, supervisors were effectively saying that 47,000 acres could not be used for solar projects.

Gordon shared several other reasons why the board should approve the community solar projects:

» The projects will provide temporary employment.

» The proposals will produce green energy.

» The sites are buffered from public view.

» The projects are outside town limits.

» For the Clarksville site there is no other solar farm located within a four-mile radius

» The language in the County’s decommissioning requirements anticipate that solar facilities will be built on unused agriculture land and return to agricultural use once no longer needed for solar.

» The comprehensive plan should be used to scrutinize not discriminate against solar projects.

The Noblin Farm Road solar facility, had it been approved, would have required less than 25 acres of a 233-acre site. The majority of the land around the project would have remained in agricultural use. The solar field would have been set back from neighboring properties — most of which are owned by the Gordon family — by between 150 and 500 feet.

The project would have generated $7,000 per month in income to Mecklenburg County since the developer agreed to pay $1,400 per KW hour of generated power per month over the life of the project, on the condition the money be used for public improvements.

The Chase City-area community solar site would have been located at 9028 Highway 92 and would have used 24.41 acres of a 123-acre site. The panels would have been set back at least 150 feet from the road and screened by what Siao called a “robust existing buffer and a berm planted with a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees.”

It, too, would have generated around $7,000 per month in income to Mecklenburg County over the life of the facility’s operation.

Unlike the Clarksville area project, where 13 neighbors signed a petition objecting to the proposal, no neighbors in Chase City expressed opposition to the plan.

Patrick Newton, who lives on Noblin Farm Road across from the proposed Gordon Farm site near Clarksville, circulated a petition and reiterated his opposition to the proposal at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Also speaking against the Gordon Farm/Noblin Farm Road project was Clarksville Vice Mayor Bruce Woerner. He said “the town is adamantly against a solar facility within one mile of the town.”

Members of Clarksville Town Council took no formal position on the project and there was no public hearing to solicit the views of citizens. Council members voiced their views through an informal straw poll taken over the phone, according to Woerner.

Woerner did not say which of the members were polled and what their position was on the subject of solar farms. Woerner also gave no reason for the town’s opposition.

In contrast, Chase City Mayor Alden Fahringer said town leaders would not object to site on Highway 92 near Chase City site being used for community solar so long as the developer agreed to certain conditions — use local workers to maintain the property, install boot and undercarriage washing systems to keep mud off town roads and out of stores, for the developers to become actively involved in the community during the life of the project. Fahringer said he’d spoken with the developer and reached a tentative agreement on the issues.

County Attorney Russell Slayton said those conditions could be negotiated as part of a special exception permit. Adherence to those conditions could not be considered to determine if the project conformed with the County’s comprehensive plan, according to Slayton.

Speaking after the vote, Supervisor Sterling Wilkinson said the board needs to individually study each solar project request “with an open mind.”

Andy Hargrove added that “we need to be mindful of the need for town growth patterns as we review solar and other projects.”

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Comments

Ok, so let me get this right?! Solar energy is a derogatory resource for Mecklenburg County? Being a small, woman owned business , which has no other choice but to use Dominion Energy in Clarksville and paying exuberant prices is a better choice????!! Maybe , if this small, local government was more transparent in why their choices were looking out for the public versus the vague explanations given to this article. Would definitely help quell our mistrust and stand behind our local government officials , more, don't you think?


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