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Rep touts solar farm at Wythe BOS meeting

Rep touts solar farm at Wythe BOS meeting

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Glass, metal and common building materials.

That’s the only thing in the solar panels that would cover a planned 858-acre farm just a mile from Interstate 77, said Tommy Cleveland.

Cleveland, a solar energy expert who previously worked for NC State, told Supervisors on Tuesday that the proposed solar farm near Foster Falls poses no risks to the population, environment or community. Savion, the company hoping to make the project happen, said the land would harness enough sunlight to provide power to 14,000 Virginia homes.

Cleveland was at last Aug. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting on behalf of Savion, offering to answer any questions county leaders might have.

On Aug. 11, Supervisors voted to take up the Savion matter again at the Sept. 8 meeting. The company, which has leased land in the southeastern tip of the county, is hoping to get the county’s blessing to go ahead. The board in early August delayed action until September to see if the project conforms to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is a document that provides a blueprint for growth in the county. In places where there are zoning regulations, plans also provide a basis for those codes.

Though the county’s Comprehensive Plan doesn’t directly address solar projects, the Wythe County Planning Commission voted 5-2 on Aug. 10 that the solar farm does conform to the plan; however, members said the vote would have been different had the county had a zoning ordinance in place.

Supervisors in September could overrule the Planning Commission’s decision, agree with the decision or take no action, leaving the commission’s vote as final.

Cleveland told Supervisors that he has spent his whole career in solar energy and the technology that would be used in the Wythe County project has been around for decades.

“It’s well understood,” he said, “how (the panels) work on day one and how they work 30 years later.”

Cleveland said that not only is there nothing in the panels that would cause a risk to the population, the farm would create green energy, meaning less coal and natural gas are being burned. The farm also wouldn’t impact neighbors or limit farmland nearby, he said. The most disruptive part of the project, Cleveland said, would likely be the concrete pads that would be built to seat an inverter and a transformer. Most of the construction would consist of glass panels attached to steel poles in the ground.

The expert said that cleanup would be similar to construction but in reverse. The panels that are being used would likely have some value at the end of the 35-year lease, Cleveland said. The panels carry a warranty guaranteeing that they will still produce 80% of their capacity at 25 years. He said the panels could be sold as second-hand or be scrapped for the steel, aluminum and copper value.

Matt Hooper, senior development manager at Savion, said that in most cases the salvage value of solar panels is greater than decommissioning costs. Hooper also told Supervisors that the project’s lease could renew at the end of 35 years. 

Hooper invited Supervisors to visit the site, saying it was “tucked back in a holler” and “not able to be seen.”

The project promises nearly 300 jobs during construction and two to five permanent jobs and will provide ongoing tax revenue for the county.

The landowner, Eloise Turner, said members of the Planning Commission and Supervisor Coy McRoberts have visited the site. She invited the remaining Supervisors to visit.

“I just want to use the land as I see fit,” she said. “Please let me do this. This is a good project.”

Turner, who lives in North Carolina, bought the farm 25 years ago. She said the deal with Savion is good for her and for the county. She told Supervisors earlier that she currently pays $2,800 in property taxes. The solar farm, she estimated, would bring in around $100,000.

Hooper said the site was picked largely because of nearby substations. Construction on the project would take around a year, the Savion official said.

At the early August meeting, neighboring landowners sounded alarms about the project, raising concerns about the impact on habitat, caves, mines, erosion and water.

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