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Solar public hearing deferred - Independent-Messenger: News

Solar public hearing deferred

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Posted: Friday, September 7, 2018 12:00 am

TradeWind Energy, Inc. has proposed a 1,000 acre, $90 million solar farm project near the intersection of Rockbridge Road and Collins Road. On May 8 a public hearing was held by the Greensville County Planning Commission. After the presentation the project was deferred to Aug. 28 when it was again deferred, this time to Sept. 11 when another solar farm public hearing will also be held.

The Greensville County Planning Commission made it clear to everyone that this is the first solar farm company to be considered in the area and they want to go slow and make sure the County is protected against anything that might come up in the future. Solar farms are new. There is not a lot known about the decommissioning process.

Although the public hearing was packed with a large crowd, no one spoke against the proposal of the solar farm but several people spoke in favor of it.

So why the deferral? There are two sticking points, one of which TradeWind Energy representatives say is a “deal breaker.” Planning Commission member Jeff Robinson suggested a 150-foot buffer zone around the panels instead of the 50 foot buffer proposed by Tradewind.

The most important sticking point concerned decommissioning the solar farm panels in 25-30 years. The County wants the company to put up cash to protect the County.

TradeWind says putting up $2 million in cash for a $90 million investment is asking too much. The company wants the salvage value (price that the materials left over such as glass and steel might fetch when the project has to be decommissioned.

Justin McGeeney, senior development manager, said he was not aware of any solar project that could support 100 percent cash security without recognizing salvage value and that 100 percent cash security would “not allow our project to move forward.” He noted that other forms of security are available to mitigate concerns such as a letter of credit, bond, etc.

McGeeney was told that perhaps a letter of credit could also be used but not bonds or salvage value. County Attorney Russell Slayton questioned whether Greensville County would want to make it self responsible for selling the salvage materials in 30 years to try to recoup some of the decommissioning costs. “Let TradeWind do that. It’s not up to the County to do it.”

Slayton went on to say that 20-30 years is a long time and dealing with salvage value is a complicated legal issue and he was asked to give advice on what is best for the County in the long term. Who has a right to sell the salvage, the County or TradeWind. And what about trespassing on the landowner’s property to collect the salvage to sell? He said removing the panels present a challenge that the County should look into before taking a chance on getting into the salvage business.

McGeeney said using 100 percent cash security would be like stashing millions of dollars under a mattress for decades.

Planning Commissioner Lofton Allen said the board was in favor of the project but “how do we protect ourselves?” he asked. Walter Robinson said the board could talk to the applicant to see if they could negotiate on the decommissioning money but “they said this is a deal breaker.”

The board decided to take the case back up in two weeks but McGeeney objected. He said the board’s decision had taken them by surprise and they really need to keep the viability of the project going.

Slayton said he was impressed with the company and thought they had chosen an excellent site for a solar farm but told McGeeney that it was not the County’s fault if the company put itself in an economic deadline on what they hoped would be a favorable decision on each and every step along the way.

He told the Planning Commission members that if they need two weeks to be sure of what they want to recommend to the Greensville County Board of Supervisors then they should take the time. “If you need more time then take it.”

He went on to say that he couldn’t believe that requiring $2 million in cash security would be a deal breaker on a $90 million project when TradeWind has invested almost three years and $2 million in studies, etc., to propose the project.

McGeeney told the board if they weren’t ready to make a favorable decision that night to deny it and let them appeal it to the Board of Supervisors. The board declined.

TradeWind Energy, Inc. develops wind and solar energy projects for utilities, land owners, and commercial and industrial businesses in the United States. The company also provides initial site assessment, land leasing, wind measurement and analysis, detailed assessment, contracting, financing, equipment procurement, and project completion and maintenance services for land owners.

It serves investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, and municipalities.

The privately owned company has 140 employees and began scouting out Greensville County for a proposed project in 2015 because of the flat open land near big transmission lines but not near residential sites or big industry.

This site fit those characteristics, said McGeeney, noting that the company worked with landowners to get leases in place and several necessary surveys, etc., were completed and solar data was collected for 12 months.

If approved the large solar project would be completed by December 2020, said McGeeney, noting that it takes about 6-9 months to construct the project, which will create about 250-300 temporary construction jobs. About half of those jobs will be contracted locally, he said, noting that it’s a $90 million project that would bring a lot of economic benefits to the local community, including about $175,000 in revenue for Greensville County annually for about 30 years. Money that can be spent on schools or other needed projects. “It’s a big economic project,” he stressed.

McGeeney talked about the vegetative screening that would be used around the fenced in project and when asked said the project would not negatively affect property values. About 750 acres of land would have panels installed on it.

Dr. Mike Anderson spoke in favor of the project. The Greensville Memorial Foundation owns land in the project area. He said the money from the project would be used to refill the Foundation’s purse so that the Foundation could fund additional projects that will improve the health of residents in Emporia and neighboring locations. Anderson said it would be a very beneficial project for the Foundation.

Sheila Ferguson spoke in favor of the TradeWind project. She noted that companies want green energy and that some businesses have not located in Greensville County because of it. She also pointed out the lack of recreation for children and adults, limited educational opportunities and the lack of quality homes to rent or buy in this area. The money generated from this project could help with those issues, she said.

Rev. James Parham said he applauded the project but had some concerns, including the loss of property value.

“I hope you consider that and that things could go south,” he said. “We need some type of security that addresses concerns of neighbors.” He said the project might be alright for 90 percent of the people in this area, but what about the other 10 percent?

Jim Ferguson said people worked hard to pay for their land, noting that timber prices are half of what they were 15 years ago. Due to Smithfield Foods, farmers can’t have hog farms any more. “This project is important to our families and to our community.”

He called solar energy a good neighbor and hoped that the project would return more tax income to the County.

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