Solar power firm details proposed farm in Mount Jackson

MOUNT JACKSON – A large solar-power farm could take root in town if approved by local and state officials.

The Mount Jackson Planning Commission heard from a representative of Mt. Jackson Solar I LLC – the applicant seeking a special-use permit to build a 15.65-megawatt, solar electricity generating facility on 160 acres along Turkey Knob Road. The commission scheduled a public hearing on the permit for May 1 after which the Town Council could approve the application. Panel member Robert Whitehurst, one of the owners of the property eyed for the proposed project who would benefit from lease payments by Mt. Jackson Solar I LLC, abstained from voting and said earlier in the meeting that he has a conflict of interest and any comments he might make about the permit request would be as a landowner and not as a commissioner.

Matthew Meares, with Virginia Solar LLC, gave a presentation to the commission and entertained questions from the panel and the audience. The project will occupy 160 acres of parcels out of 185 acres that the town recently annexed. The property remains zoned for agricultural use. Town zoning rules allow a solar-panel farm with an approved special-use permit. The project also requires approval by state agencies, Meares said.

The energy generated by the solar panels would feed into the electricity grid for Dominion Power’s use, Meares said. The power from the inverter stations would be transmitted via lines on six new utility poles to Dominion Power’s transmission system. The applicants say in their filing with the town that interconnection with the Dominion distribution line helps meet local power needs first with excess energy flowing to the grid. A commercial or industrial development that takes root adjacent to the facility might tap into the solar farm and buy its electricity from the generator. The additional power would neither increase nor decrease customer rates, Meares noted.

The applicants expect the project to require 235 workers on site during the construction, likely to include some local contractors and suppliers. If the town approves the permit application, then state agencies could give the project the green light later in the year, Meares said. Peak construction could occur in late summer or early fall 2018. Applicants boast that the influx of workers would bring more revenue to the area.

Once complete, Mt. Jackson Solar I estimates the project to generate four direct jobs, one indirect job and one “induced” job along with $900,000 in economic impact in the year the project is built, according to a report provided by the applicant.

The town and county cannot collect machinery and tools tax from the facility. Legislation passed in recent years exempts any solar-power facilities that generate 20 megawatts or less from paying the tax. The state deems such facilities “pollution control equipment.”

However, the town and county can expect to see increased revenue through real estate tax charged on the land for the project. The property will need to be taken out of the county’s land-use taxation program, thus increasing the value of the parcels. The property owners would need to pay the county $8,000 in rollback taxes for changing the land use and their tax bill would increase by about $8,600.

The developers propose to build a buffer of cedar trees along Georgetown Road that would shield the metal fence necessary to protect the facility. The buffer would help lessen the noise generated by the equipment on the site, Meares said.

The project will have no negative impact on wildlife or adjacent property values, Meares said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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