Mount Jackson panel backs solar farm permit

MOUNT JACKSON – The town Planning Commission endorsed a proposal Monday that would let a solar power farm set up off Turkey Knob Road.

The panel voted 3-0 to recommend that the Town Council approve a special-use permit requested by Mt. Jackson Solar I LLC to build a 15.65-megawatt, solar electricity generating facility. Commissioners Ken Hackenbracht, Anita Miller and Evelyn Burner voted in favor of the motion. Commissioner Robert Whitehurst abstained because he has a conflict. Hackenbracht also serves on the Town Council.

The commission held a public hearing jointly with the Town Council on the permit.
Typically public hearings allow speakers to comment, but not ask questions, about the topic. However, Chairman Larry Ambrose asked if anyone in the audience had questions and a handful of people, including council members, inquired about the project.

Virginia Solar LLC representative Matthew Meares gave a presentation on the proposed project prior to the public hearing.

The project would occupy about 160 acres of a 185-acre property zoned for agricultural use and owned by Whitehurst. After the public hearing and before the commission took action on the permit request, Ambrose asked if anyone on the panel had a conflict of interest. Whitehurst said he has a personal interest in the solar farm.

Based on feedback received at a public meeting held by Virginia Solar last month and attended by six people, the plans now call for the extension of the tree buffer along Georgetown Road, Meares said.

The company tries to line up solar panels to run north-to-south. The panels, made from non-reflective material, rotate to follow the sun, Meares said.

The applicants anticipate the project to need about 235 workers during construction. The project would generate noise during construction, so the applicants proposed to limit the times of day and week the work would occur, Meares said. The applicants created a construction traffic management plan that makes Mt. Jackson Solar I responsible for any road damage. The facility should make little to no noise once completed and in operation, Meares added. Plans call for the installation of a security fence around the facility.

Once complete, the applicants’ report states they expect the facility to create four direct jobs and to generate $900,000 in economic impact.

The solar farm would not hurt wildlife, Meares said.

Economic benefits include $8,000 in rollback taxes paid by the property owner to the town for the change of use of the land; an increase in property tax to the town of $900 per year; and $18,000 in rollback taxes and an increase of $3,800 in property taxes to the county, according to Meares.

The facility should last about 35 years and each panel comes with a 25-year warranty, Meares explained.