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Planners reject solar facility on town outskirts

SoVaNow.com / April 03, 2019
The Mecklenburg County Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject a request by Inman Solar to install a 5.01 megawatt solar installation on 33 acres of land at the corner of U.S. 58 and Cow Road near Clarksville, owned by the Gordon Brothers.

The vote was 10-0 to deny the permit application due to the site’s proximity to Clarksville town limits. The facility is envisioned to be built within seven-tenths of a mile of the town’s western boundary.

Inman and Gregg Gordon, one of the property owners, can appeal the decision to the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors. The soonest that appeal will take place, according to Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick, is May 13 during the regular meeting of supervisors.

Gordon, who serves on the Board of Supervisors in ED-9, has been a consistent supporter of solar facilities in the county but would be required to abstain on any vote that could be of direct benefit to him.

Those speaking against the proposal included several members of the Pittard family, whose farm lies directly across Cow Road from the proposed site. Also speaking in opposition were Nichol Cooper, whose family owns a wedding venue at the end of Cow Road, and residents who travel the road to get to their homes.

Speaking for Inman, Mark Jones said this facility was unlike other utility-scale projects previously approved by the Board of Supervisors. It is much smaller — only 5.01 megawatts, compared to the 50, 60 and 80 MW projects planned for Otter Creek, Bluestone, and Grasshopper facilities in Chase City — and it will be tied to transmission lines, not distribution lines, as with the larger facilities.

The small scale means that electricity generated by the site will be directly transmitted to local Dominion Energy customers. The facility does not need access to a substation, only two larger transformers.

Gordon, who will continue to own the property, told members of the Planning Commission that he is sensitive to the concerns of neighbors who do not want to see a field of solar panels from their properties. He offered to plant screening vegetation around each collection of panels as well as along the property line. He added, “I would not allow it [the installation of the facility] if the property could not be buffered and it was not quiet.”

Gordon proposed a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees as well as shrubs planted to look as if it is naturally-occurring buffer.

In response to a question by commissioner Mark Warren, Gordon said the acreage not covered by solar panels — the site is 107 acres, but only 33 will be covered with panels — would continue to be farmed. He also responded to Warren’s concern about whether the racking system would increase the amount of heavy metals leaching into the soil, telling him the racks are made of the same metal used in greenhouses and cell towers.

In the past, the property had been home to a drive-in movie theatre. Currently the property closest to U.S. 58 contains several greenhouses maintained by Aaron’s Creek Nursery. Gordon, in the past, said the family was able to restore the soil and return the land to use for tobacco farming after the drive-in theatre was removed.

He said he felt confident that planting the field with alfalfa or hemp, once the panels are gone, would once again rejuvenate the soil.

Studies supported by the National Institute of Health and other scientific organizations find that hemp has what are known as phytoremediation qualities that extract a variety of heavy metals from soils.

A number of nearby residents objecting to the project, such as Sarah and Kristen Pittard, were more concerned about the negative effects a solar facility would have on the area, which they noted is a tourism destination. Sarah Pittard acknowledged that solar power could be a reasonable clean energy source but felt there were other sites in Mecklenburg County more suitable for such a facility.

Kristen Pittard concurred, adding that Inman Solar wants to install the facility across from a “bicentennial family farm.”

Wanda Henderson, who said she is in the process of revitalizing her family farm on nearby Chicken Town Road, said she opposed having “industrial uses within the town boundary.”

Clarksville currently has industrial zoning within town limits. One such site is the former Burlington factory property. Local veterinarian Al Dahl wondered if the panels being proposed by Inman were the most efficient. Dahl estimated that Inman’s project calls for 6.5 acres of panels to generate one megawatt of power. He noted that most new projects need only four acres of panels to produce one MW.

Dahl also questioned why the town and county were not looking at sites not currently used for agriculture, such as the abandoned co-gen coal-fired plant in Clarksville or abandoned school properties like Buckhorn Elementary.

Several residents worried about the impact on their viewshed. Dale Tuck said he “liked looking at farmland” and Nichol Cooper, co-owner of Cooper’s Landing Inn, spoke about patrons at her Turtle Cove wedding venue who often commented on the beauty of Cow Road.

There is no guarantee that the land currently under consideration for a solar facility would remain open farmland — a fact pointed out by Gordon.

Larry Sloan was one of the few speakers who offered a suggestion to those who feared the change to the viewshed. He encouraged commissioners to recommend an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan, to require anyone considering installation of a solar facility to first plant buffering material at the site before beginning the permitting process. Then, residents and decision makers could see if screening materials could, in fact, shield the site from the view of neighbors and visitors to the area.

In the end, Vice Chair Charles Jones made the motion to deny Inman’s request on the grounds that the proposal was not in conformance with the county’s comprehensive plan. His specific reason was that the property was within seven-tenths of a mile of the Clarksville town limits.

Mecklenburg County’s comprehensive plan, which was amended by the Board of Supervisors in 2017, recommends that solar facilities, as much as possible be located:

» outside any identified growth boundary and not within two miles of any town boundary;

» on brownfields or near existing industrial uses, but not within growth boundaries;

» adjacent to or in close proximity to existing transmission lines;

» to avoid or minimize impact to prime farmland or farmlands of statewide importance as defined by the USDA and Commonwealth of Virginia;

» away from airports; and

» outside the viewshed of any scenic, cultural or recreational resources.

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Comments

LOL, another win for the stupidity of country bumpkins! 'Not in My Back Yard' policy will keep schools under funded and teachers underpaid, and businesses under economic growth. Congrats to the Morons that are Mecklenburg county. You continue to make it worse there, keep it up, keep dirtying the toilet that is Mecklenburg County. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA


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