Seven Bridges Solar Project put on hold

Matt Levine, Director of Development for Longroad Energy, addressed a group of citizens at a meeting held in Chase City last week, announcing that the company was putting plans on hold for a large solar energy project outside of Chase City.  According to Levine, the company plans to take feedback from citizens and make adjustments to the proposal before resubmitting the project before the county in April or May.

Longroad Energy, a Boston based solar developer, has announced that it will delay a plan to construct a solar energy facility near Chase City.   The “7 Bridges” project, an 114 megawatt facility, would be the fourth solar generation facility to locate in the Chase City area.

Longroad has been looking for a special exception permit to construct the 114 megawatt facility on some 942 acres just northwest of Chase City.

On Friday of last week, Longroad Developer Director Matt Levine, requested that the permit application be removed for the time being while the company rethinks the details of the project.  The proposal had been scheduled to go before the Mecklenburg Planning Commission on Thursday, Feb. 27 for consideration. 

This week, Longroad hosted a community meeting at the Estes Community Center in Chase City to discuss the project with citizens and to explain that due to concerns raised, the company will step back and reevaluate parts of the plan.

At an earlier meeting held at Butler Memorial Library, South Hill attorney John M. Janson appeared and reported that he represents several area landowners who are opposed to the project.  Reasons for the opposition, said Janson, include the project frontage along a large tract on the Meherrin River and the sheer size of the project, which is said to total some 2,500 acres.

Speaking at that meeting, Levin said that fewer than 500 acres of the site will actually contain solar panels and that only 942 acres will be fenced off for the solar farm.  Levin also said that the site has not been used for farmland in several years but has instead been timberland.  The bulk of the land, he said, will remain covered with existing trees that will shield the facility from public view.

Fielding a question from a citizen this week, Levin said that the facility will feature wildlife paths that will allow animals to roam the area as they always have.

Also last week, Longroad told the citizens that the project “has been sited with respect to two significant values defined by Mecklenburg County,”  : (1) maintain the rural character of the county and (2)  avoid impacting farmlands.

Levin also told the citizens that the company feels that the plan is “substantially in accord” with the Mecklenburg Comprehensive Plan as there is a “preponderance of agreement between a project proposal and the overall intent and goals of your comprehensive plan.”

Concerning the often discussed question of funding for retiring solar farms at the end of their useful lifespan, the company confirmed that it would post a bond covering those costs before construction starts.

Currently, three solar projects are planned near Chase City after a long public debate over the suitability of such projects and their impact on the area.

The Grasshopper Project, an 80 watt facility, is located on a 950 acre site located at the corner of Highway 47 and Highway 49.  Located on Spanish Grove Road, the Bluestone Farm Project is located on 334 acres and is a 50 MW facility.  The Otter Creek Project is a 60 MW facility located on 682 acres.

For now, Levine said Longroad Energy will take time to reassess the layout of its planned solar array, gain further constituent input and come back to the county “with an even better plan.”  Speaking on Monday, Levine said he expects the tweaked plan to be resubmitted in April or May.

“We’re going to resubmit,” said Levine.  “We plan to relocate some panels and the General Assembly has a few bills to help localities get more from solar projects.  We don’t want the county to leave anything on the table.  We want them to get the tax revenue they deserve.”

“We didn’t have a lot of people at the open house we held in October and we wanted to give more time for citizens to provide more feedback.  We want to use that feedback because we’re listening to their concerns and working with the engineers to make this the best project possible for Mecklenburg and the citizens.  Mecklenburg is lucky to have the land and the transmission lines for these types of projects.  They can help the budget and bring in industries.  A lot of tech companies and manufacturing companies want carbon neutral power.”

Levine also stressed that Longroad is one of the few solar companies using U.S. made solar panels, tracking and related equipment for their projects.