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Planners OK solar facility

Planners in Buckingham County have recommended approval of a special use permit (SUP) proposed for a $35 million solar facility, consisting of a 20 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generating facility that could power about 3,300 homes, creating 13 jobs.

Seven people spoke during the June 26 hearing, according to County Zoning and Planning Administrator Rebecca S. Cobb. Speakers discussed visibility along property lines, heat emitted from the panels, cutting trees for installation, retrieving hunting dogs within the fenced portion of the facility and economic value of the facility to the county, according to Cobb.

“The introduction of this case will happen at the next regular board of supervisors meeting on July 10,” Cobb said.

The SUP is being sought by Buckingham II Solar LLC.

If approved, this would be the second solar facility in Buckingham County. Last June, county supervisors approved a special use permit for the construction of a $35 million solar energy facility at 623 High Rock Road in Buckingham. Virginia Solar LLC, which owns Buckingham II Solar, the permit applicant, sought last year’s permit for the first facility.

“This application is made by the same individuals as the first application, but under a different entity name. This request, if approved, will be adjacent to the previously approved solar facility,” Cobb said in a previous interview. “The applicant stated in the May meeting that the previous facility will be connected to one transformer at the Buckingham Substation and this facility is planned to be connected at the other transformer within the same substation. According to the applicant, this facility will have the capability to power approximately 100 additional homes as compared to the total number powered in the previous request.”

If approved, the facility will be located on approximately 295 acres on five parcels consisting of approximately 470 acres, according to the permit application.

Owners of the properties that the facility span include Robert and Lilian Johansen, Katherine J. Firestone Living Trust, Ryan D. Johnson and Blue Rock Resources.

“The project will use proven technology which has been used throughout the U.S.,” project leaders said in the application. “The solar arrays and ancillary equipment will occupy approximately 225 acres of the 295 acres subject to the SUP. The PV modules produce low-voltage direct current (DC) electrical power which is collected and delivered to the inverter and transformer stations located throughout the site where it is converted into medium voltage alternating current (AC). The power from the inverter stations will be collected from across the site to the point of interconnection where it will interconnect with the Dominion Virginia Power distribution line through a pole mounted device. By interconnecting with the distribution lines, the project will help meet local electrical needs first, with the excess then flowing to the overall grid.”

According to the application, the perimeter of the project will be surrounded by a six-foot high chain link fence.

According to the application for the SUP, the facility will be monitored remotely on a 24/7 basis to ensure the project is operating properly. “The project will be constructed in a single phase with a proposed 35 year life. The project will produce enough electricity on an annual basis to power approximately 3,300 typical homes.”

Project leaders anticipate that a maximum of 260 workers on-site for the project during the construction period, “and it will likely include some local suppliers and contractors. The peak of construction is currently planned for late summer/fall 2018. The influx of construction workers will provide a steady source of revenue to local hotels and restaurants,” according to the permit application.

Buckingham II Solar estimates the project to be valued at approximately $35 million.

“A majority of the cost is associated with the purchase of the equipment for the project,” project leaders said. “During development and construction, the project will provide direct and indirect benefits to Buckingham County and support local jobs throughout that period. Based on work done by Chmura Economics and Analytics for Dominion on the Scott I (project) in Powhatan County, it is estimated that Buckingham II Solar will generate for Buckingham County 13 direct jobs, one indirect job and one induced job with $1.3 million in economic impact in the year the project is built. During post-construction operation, the project will contribute personal income to workers and the landowner.”

The commission attached 26 conditions to the permit which address height of the facility, traffic during construction, the decommissioning process, obtaining building permits, fencing, lighting during construction and post-construction, buffers, setbacks and noise.

Construction could begin as early as the second quarter of 2018, project leaders said.

During operations, the project primarily will be remotely managed on a 24/7 basis.

According to the application, construction employees will consist of laborers, electricians, supervisory personnel, support personnel and construction management personnel. “It is expected that most construction workers will commute to the site from nearby communities. It is anticipated that there will be an average of 85-100 workers on-site during the construction period with a maximum of 122-250 workers for the project.”