A Charlottesville company is seeking a special exception permit from Amherst County officials to operate a utility-scale solar generation facility on a 141-acre tract off Izaak Walton Road.
The Amherst County Planning Commission on Oct. 25 unanimously recommended approval of the permit to the board of supervisors. The facility shall not exceed 10 megawatts on the parcel zoned Limited Residential (R-1), that is currently vacant with much of the timber removed.
About 90 to 95 acres of the site roughly seven miles south of the Town of Amherst is included in the proposed development area with 60 acres devoted to solar arrays and 30 to 35 acres contributed to a fenced-in facility, according to county documents.
Daniel Band, project developer with the applicant, Sun Tribe Development, LLC, said the facility will produce enough electricity for 2,500 homes on an annual basis with about a 30-year lifespan.
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“The project produces electricity without producing noise or emissions during operations,” Band said. “There’s no permanent on-site lighting. There is minimal traffic. This will provide substantial tax revenue to the county.”
The company estimates about $563,000 over the lifetime of the project, which is called the Partridge Creek Solar Project, including $212,000 in projected machinery and tools tax and $350,000 forecasted in real property taxes, he said.
“There will be substantial indirect revenue through jobs to build it,” Band said. “There are a lot of spillover effects to local businesses. Unlike other potential development on site, this use doesn’t draw much on county services or infrastructure.”
The project will use panels electronically connected and mounted on racking equipment from metal framing with racks oriented in rows along a north-south axis, according to county documents. The rows of panels will use motors to rotate east to west following the sun’s path each day.
The solar operation will interconnect to Appalachian Power Company’s distribution system via attachment facilities located at the northwest of the site, according to the documents. Setbacks of at least 150 feet or more are proposed from adjacent property lines to panel arrays to be sensitive to neighboring properties.
Band said the company has taken steps to ensure the solar operation is not impactful to neighboring properties.
“We worked on making this a community-focused design, making those setbacks larger than generally needed,” Band told the commission. “We also prioritized wildlife protection. There are additional safeguards. So there are quite a few hoops that we jump through in terms of this to make sure what we are building is good for the environment and good for the neighbors.”
Construction is estimated at a four to six-month period, he said. Once established, the facility will be monitored remotely 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time Partridge Creek Solar Project permanently ceases operations, the company has a decommissioning plan process in place to safely disconnect the system and remove the components.
Crystal Burks, who is buying property adjoining the project, said during a public hearing she favors a solar operation over other potential land uses such as a housing development.
“Burks Road is quiet, not a lot of people, and I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.
Billy Mays, a county resident, said he thinks the solar facility is a great idea.
“It’s a clean, natural resource,” Mays said. “The direction the world is going into now, it just makes sense to go solar. Several homes in our neighborhood have solar panels on the roof. I don’t think you can go wrong with it. I think it’s a good opportunity.”
Zkyler Zunk, co-founder and CEO of Energy Right, a nonprofit he said serves as a conservative voice in clean energy discussions, also spoke in favor during the hearing.
“We want these projects to be good neighbors,” Zunk said. “We want to do right by rural Virginia. If we don’t do these right, if we aren’t good neighbors, communities like Amherst are going to stop permitting them. We think they are a good opportunity, a good economic driver for the areas they are sited in.”
Zunk said such solar operations should be well buffered with appropriate setbacks for neighbors.
“We put solar panels on our homes and businesses all the time and with proper prep work and proper application, work going into these projects, they can be a safe land use,” Znk said. “We think that developing clean power in our communities helps our energy security and helps our energy independence so we’re not relying on anyone else when we want to turn on the lights.”
Commissioner member Leslie Gamble asked Interim County Administrator Jeremy Bryant why the property known as the former Scottish Inn motel on U.S. 29 Business in Madison Heights, in the vicinity of the Dillard Road intersection, wasn’t completely demolished.
“That’s such a horrible blight down there,” Gamble said. “At one point do we say enough is enough and they have to tear it all down?”
Bryant said a legal agreement the county outlined with the owner a few years ago, which resulted in much of the site being torn down after numerous code issues arose, indicates a Howard Johnson’s will be coming to the lot.
“And their model was to renovate that building,” Bryant said, referring to the structure still on site. “So they are going to build a new freestanding, two-story hotel with that section. The owner asked it to be left if they tore down the other part.”
Bryant said as long as the remaining structure is safe it is in compliance with county building code. He told the commission he’s heard multiple times a site plan for the new hotel may soon be forthcoming.
Bryant recently was promoted to the interim county administrator and serves as the director of community development. He informed the commission that Tyler Creasy, a county planner, and Nate Young, who heads building and inspections, will serve as co-directors of community development.
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