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Planners recommend solar farm permit

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

MOUNT JACKSON – The Planning Commission has recommended that Town Council approve a special use permit for Virginia Solar to build a 16.65-megawatt solar farm in town.

Commissioners Ken Hackenbracht, Evelyn Burner and Anita Miller voted to approve the recommendation during their on Monday. Robert Whitehurst abstained from the vote because he owns the land along Turkey Knob and Georgetown roads that the farm would be built on.

The land is part of a 712-acre parcel that Whitehurst hopes to turn into an industrial site.

The advisory panel held a joint public hearing with council before voting on the recommendation. None of the 17 people in the audience spoke during the hearing.

Council will vote on the recommendation during its next meeting on May 9.

The farm would encompass 160 acres, with a tree buffer line to be planted along Georgetown Road and a six-foot fence along the entire operation.

Matthew Meares, co-founder of Virginia Solar, said the land is strategically suitable for solar power due to the size and quality of the land and its proximity to Northern Virginia and the company’s headquarters in Richmond.

According to Meares, the solar farm would generate electricity to be sold to Dominion Virginia Power.

The power company, which has said it plans to add 400 megawatts of solar energy to its grid by 2020, owns and operates three farms totaling 56 megawatts in Powhatan, Louisa and Isle of Wight counties.

The farm would create about 235 construction-related jobs, while maintenance of the completed farm would create six full-time jobs, Meares said.

If the special use permit is approved, Meares said, construction wouldn’t start until at least mid-2018.

“We have to get a state permit-by-rule, which by state law legally can be no faster than five months,” he said. “And we need a stormwater permit, which usually takes five to six months.”

Despite a lack of commentary during the public hearing, some town residents didn’t approve of the farm.

Nancy Estep, 78, and Melissa Miller, 46, live across Georgetown Road from the farm’s proposed site. Neither liked the idea of fences, equipment and more trees blocking their view of the landscape outside their doors.

“I’ve been here 60 years,” Estep said. “I’d rather see confrields than solar panels.”

Commission Chairman Larry Ambrose was happy about the recommendation.

“I think it’s good for the area,” he said. “We’ve got to start somewhere to get industry to Mount Jackson.”




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