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Neighbors lob questions at Alton Post Office Road solar farm / March 19, 2018
Two dozen Alton-area landowners and residents met at the Turbeville Ruritan Club Thursday night to ask questions and voice concerns about utility-scale solar energy at a community meeting organized by Carolina Solar Energy.

Carolina Solar has submitted a conditional use permit application to the Halifax County Planning Commission to build a 70-megawatt, 670-acre photovoltaic solar farm known as Powell Creek Farm Solar on Alton Post Office Road near Hendricks Lane.

Gerry Dudzik, chief operating officer for Carolina Solar, said, “Powell Creek will produce an estimated 143 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year — enough to power approximately 11,000 average (1400 sq. ft.) Virginia homes.”

Project manager Christopher Jones explained the workings of photovoltaic technology, and Dudzik assured attendees that panels they use do not contain heavy metals or anything else that could leach into the ground.

Carolina Solar will hold job fairs throughout the county, with plans to hire between 300-350 local construction workers for the 8-10 months it will take to build the solar farm. In addition to providing training for the crew, Carolina Solar will have experienced superintendents on site at all times to assist when needed.

The completed solar facility will be surrounded by a 6-foot security fence with three strands of barbed wire.

The solar farm is self-monitoring, sampling itself every 15-second to ensure the system is functioning properly. If a problem is detected, the system will send an alarm to a local electrical contractor who will respond. Once a quarter, a Carolina technician will perform an on-site visual inspection.

One resident wanted to know how Carolina Solar chose the Powell Creek site. Dudzik explained Powell Creek met the criteria for an ideal site: it is in close proximity to a transmission line, has enough contiguous land to support the project, and is not in a flood plain.

A landowner surrounded on three sides by the proposed solar facility asked about the potential for additional runoff due to clear-cutting the property.

Aside from abiding by Virginia regulations governing runoff, Dudzik said the company will plant grass to soak up most if not all runoff. Until the grass comes up, Carolina will install temporary catch basins.

Several residents voiced concern about the number of solar projects in the county. Dudzik said he believes that transmission line capacity will be a self-limiting factor in driving solar farm construction. Although he did not know what the exact limits are on current transmission lines, he said that once it reaches capacity, Dominion would forbid additional applications to hook up to it.

A public hearing before the Planning Commission is scheduled for Tuesday.

Durham-based Carolina Solar Energy built the first utility scale solar grid farm in the Southeast as part of a collaboration with North Carolina State University in 2007.

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The title of this article is incorrect. The solar project being discussed at the Turbeville Ruritan was the "Powells Creek Farm Solar Project" and is a separate project from the Alton Post Office Solar Project.

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