CHATHAM — The eighth solar farm planned for Pittsylvania County received a special use permit Tuesday night despite a single voice of public dissent.
The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously voted 5-0 to approve a 500-acre project split between the Banister and Callands-Gretna districts that is projected to generate 42 megawatts annually.
The project is through Sycamore Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Austin, Texas-based Open Road Renewables.
During the public hearing, a landowner who will be affected voiced his displeasure with the arrangement and said he has been working with an attorney. Working frequent 12 hour shifts, William Case said he has not had enough time to research to understand what is being proposed.
“I would like to have a little bit more time to prepare … I feel like I’m being railroaded,” he said.
No one on the board responded to Case.
During the public hearing of the planning commission meeting Aug. 6, when the project was recommended to the Board of Zoning Appeals, Sycamore Solar representatives said it would not adversely affect land values in the area. Case, who said he is considering selling his house, consulted with a realtor and appraiser, and both said it will decrease the value of his home.
Landowner Andy Wyatt, who would lease as much as 350 acres for this project, said he is excited about it. Since he isn’t farming it anymore, he said no one else is going to lease the property from them.
“We figured this is the best way we can hold on to the property,” he said.
Open Road Renewables Director of Development Patrick Buckley said right now the company does not have buyers for the power that either of these farms will generate. The two farms will be connected to the Dominion Energy grid.
Sycamore Solar representatives said they expect to have the project fully operational sometime next year.
As they finalize their plans, Sycamore Solar will receive a much larger plot of 985 acres, which they will then trim down to the final 500-acre facility.
Through Maplewood Solar, LLC, Open Road Renewables also is working on another solar farm in the county, the largest proposed project in the county so far at 120 megawatts.
Even though this is the eighth solar farm approved to operate in the county, the only operations facility thus far is TPE Kentuck Solar, LLC, a 6-megawatt farm near Kentuck middle and high schools.
Danville Utilities also will connect to the planned 12-megawatt Ringgold project and the 10-megawatt Whitmell project when those are completed in 2020. These contracts will replace half of a contract from Danville Utilities that will expire Dec. 31, 2020, which provides 17% of the city’s energy.
Whitehorn Solar, LLC, another solar project that was approved earlier this month, will provide energy to match the electric usage of the Virginia web servers for the Seattle, Washington-based technology giant Amazon. That 45 megawatt project, which is expected to become operational next year, will be located in the Banister and Callands-Gretna districts.
These solar farms will not provide much in the way of consistent jobs; the construction process will provide some, but the maintenance mostly involves landscaping.
The county has developed a detailed, 17-part ordinance for solar projects. The ordinance covers aspects such as visuals, erosion and sediment control and decommission bonds to pay for the decommission costs when those arise.
Sycamore Solar representatives said they expect their facility to remain operational for as long as four decades. As part of the approval process, they will put forth two bonds: one for the landscaping costs and another for the decommission. This prevents any of the costs being passed onto the taxpayers in the event that Sycamore Solar is not able to pay the costs when they arise.
The main benefit to the county comes from the increased property taxes from the zoning changes. The taxes on solar collectors will provide minimal income, as solar farms that generate less than 20 megawatts are exempt from local taxation on the solar collectors, and any farm that generates more than 20 megawatts is still 80% exempt from local taxes.
No county or state incentives were offered.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.