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Prince Edward approves new solar farm

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, with conditions, to approve Holocene Clean Energy’s request for a special use permit allowing the construction and operation of a 3-megawatt solar generation facility in the vicinity of 1827 Piney Grove Road.

The vote came during the board’s March 10 meeting following a public hearing on the matter in which no one from the public spoke, though two Holocene representatives did — Laura Merten and Davis Plunkett.

“We’re looking at leasing about 18 acres of land, and then only about 15 of that will be in the fence, and it is a pretty remote location,” Merten said.

Wade Bartlett

Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett noted the facility would be located on land owned by Ana Sawyer.

The main topic of discussion between the board and Holocene’s representatives related to the eventual decommissioning of the facility. supervisors and Bartlett aimed to ensure the county would be secure financially in the face of decommissioning.

In its decommissioning plan, Holocene estimated the project’s operational life at 30 years, which, it noted, has been corroborated by an independent engineering firm. The plan stated the total cost to decommission the site was estimated at $157,707.

A paragraph in the plan dedicated to the subject of security for the county opened by stating that in the unlikely event of abandonment of the facility, the funds required for decommissioning the site will be available via the salvage value of the facility.

The plan listed a total salvage value of $170,227.74. It stated that the salvage value was estimated for copper, aluminum and steel using current trading prices for scrap metal.

J. David Emert

Prospect District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman J. David Emert highlighted how the cost of copper, aluminum and steel can change significantly over time.

“So therefore the whole thing is skewed,” he said.

The plan noted in the security paragraph that if the county requires additional assurance, the applicant, Holocene, is prepared to make funds available for this purpose.

“While bonding has been the preferred method of security for some Virginia counties, the applicant encourages the county to consider alternate methods including the creation of a remediation fund or capital investment fund where funds for decommissioning resources are managed by the county,” the plan stated. “In compliance with the Prince Edward County Ordinance, the applicant is prepared to provide security prior to construction and for reassessment every five years.”

Robert M. “Bobby” Jones

Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones said the idea of Holocene paying into a fund annually over the lifetime of the project sounded good.

“But again, obviously, the company has to stay solvent to do it,” he said.

Emert pointed to his own life experience when he said he has been in business long enough to know that very few companies that were operating when he was young are still in business.

“And that’s been the way it works,” he said. “So for us to be able to hold Holocene accountable or anyone else, that’s where the problem lies.”

Holocene’s decommissioning plan stated that the long-term lease agreement for the project is in effect for 20 years with three five-year extension options for a total of 35 years.

The board ultimately agreed on the fund, with Holocene making annual payments of $8,000 for the first 10 years and $2,500 for the remaining 25 years.

“And that would be the minimum,” Bartlett said. “If it has to go up after the review, then we would look at that.”

The review he was referring to was the every-five-year reassessment of the decommissioning cost.

“As I think it’s drafted now, if it goes up by more than 10%, we would propose a new payment schedule,” Plunkett said.

Bartlett noted the county is in the process of amending its zoning ordinance by creating a specific section concerning solar generation facilities. He said Holocene has been aware of this and has been amending their special use application accordingly.

Jones credited Holocene for working with the county, adding that the county has had to tweak the project a lot, adding a variety of conditions.

“We’ve approved one solar plant prior to this, and probably did not look into it as closely as we should have,” he said. “I think we have gone through this one with a fine-tooth comb trying to make sure that everybody’s protected.”