A public hearing was held in regards to an appeal submitted by Antler’s Road Solar, LLC (RWE Renewable Americas, LLC) asking the Board to reconsider an application denial by the Planning Commission. The request is for a 90 MW solar facility to be placed in the west side of Antler’s Road (Route 633), one mile south of the highway 58 intersection.
Ann Neil Cosby, a land use attorney with Wire Gill out of northern Virginia, asked the board to reconsider based on the different location from previously denied solar projects. “The density requirements and some of the impacts are different so we think you really need to understand the difference in this project from the beginning.”
The request was denied by the planning commission based on the removal of 489.04 acres of agriculture property and Mines Creek being located on the property, which leads to Allen Creek and then to the Roanoke River.
According to Cosby, the petition to appeal has been put forth due to the denial “not being appropriate based on the county’s comprehensive plan”.
“We would submit to you that those are not really appropriate criteria for the comp plan and frankly all of the other projects in the northern part of the county around Chase City have similar impacts and we just believe that all these projects should be treated the same way with the same consideration.”
In 2017, the County amended its Comprehensive Plan to adopt criteria related to solar energy facilities. It currently states that, “the area within which all construction, materials storage, grading, and related activities for a utility-scale solar facility will occur should be less than 500 acres”.
The Antler’s Road project consists of 489 acres to construct and operate the facility. “Extensive areas of the site will remain undisturbed to avoid impacts to natural resources. Wide forested buffers will also be maintained around the perimeter of the site and at key locations to minimize visual impacts from public roadways and adjacent and to preserve existing viewsheds.”
Cosby continued to argue that the project overview was in compliance with the comprehensive plan adding that no portion of this land is currently used for agricultural purposes.
“Timber and agriculture are treated differently. The entire property is used for timbering. The remaining 520 acres of the thousand acres that’s being leased will be conserved for commercial timber. So in other words, for the life of this project, 500 acres will be used continuously for timbering.”
In regards to Mines Creek being located on the property, Cosby said the Comprehensive plan does not prohibit utility-scale solar projects from being located near or adjacent to water bodies.
“The Commission has found other larger utility-scale solar projects located near water bodies to be ‘substantially in accord’ with the Plan, including locations near the South Meherrin River.”
She continued, “Under the current administration, the director of DEQ has issued guidance on storm water management will be even more stringently regulated than it has been in the past so concerns about water quantity and water quality really are under the state’s control. The concern that any runoff would impact the Roanoke River is questionable.”
Gene Coleman, a lifelong country resident and adjoining landowner to the property, opposed the project due to the three creeks flowing through the property. He also stated that the property had “historical significance to this county”. He said that in the late 1980’s Dr. Shelton had the Department of Natural Resources come to Boydton for a special ceremony designating areas of the property as “special places in the forest” due to the gold and silver mines operating in the late 1800’s. He finished by saying that solar farms were unsightly, inefficient, and destroying productive scenic land. “Construction of a solar farm enriches a few while hurting everyone else.”
Timberlands Manager for Roseburg Forest Products and former county resident Pete Handcock said that the family that owns the property has maintained a successful forest products company for over 85 years. “The company culture is to support and benefit the communities in which these projects are operated.” He stated that the company hires locally and supports the community. He commended the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for “developing detailed guidelines on solar projects that address the concerns of county citizens”. He called the current county restraints “thorough and logical”. Finally he asked the Board consider approving the appeal based on its compliance with the Comprehensive Plan.
Dave Wilden, a resident of Antler’s Road, expressed his disapproval of the solar facility based on the 21 homes he says are going to be effected by the project. “One of the reasons I planned on retiring here is because of the wildlife. We’ve worked 25 years in that area to get the turkey population upgraded, this is all going to ruin that.”
Charles Jackson, Patricia Pierson, and Mike Crutchfield also disagreed with the large-scale solar project based on similar reasons as Coleman and Wilden.
Another Antler’s Road property owner and cattle farmer, Betty Upton said that every one of her properties in the area would be affected by the project. “The creeks that run through the property are a water supply for my cattle and horses. I cannot afford to lose cattle from contaminated water. When a solar farm comes into an area, the first thing it does is devalue the land around it. In this particular case, they cut the trees down whether they are ready to be cut or not. They scrape off all of the topsoil, which packs the dirt so hard that rain can’t even get into the dirt. Therefore, it runs off and you have erosion.”
Dan Wilborne said that the Planning Commission was “spot on” with their denial. He said that he cuts timber for a living and considers it an agricultural product. “We plant trees back where we cut timber. If you take the trees off of this 400 plus acres and there won’t be a tree on it for the next 40 years. That in and of itself has a lot to do with our environment, ecosystem, and wildlife.” He added that there is no way that this project will be constructed without affecting the water quality.
Jim Jennings stated that the State of Virginia recognizes timber and forest land as an agriculture commodity. “It’s a 21 billion dollar industry and it’s the leading employer of agriculture in Virginia so I just wanted to make that correction.”
Jennings made the motion to uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation, which was unanimously agreed upon by the Board. The appeal was denied.