MOUNT JACKSON — Town Council members have unanimously approved the application to expand a solar farm off Turkey Knob Road.
Council members approved Mount Jackson I, the first of three projects that make up the farm, last year. Cypress Creek Renewables took over the project from Virginia Solar LLC in May and plans on breaking ground on the first phase next year.
Matthew Gilliland, a project developer with Cypress Creek running the Mount Jackson project, said the first phase is in the middle of obtaining a stormwater permit. He has been traveling from Cypress Creek offices in North Carolina and California to Mount Jackson for Planning Commission and Town Council meetings for the past two months.
“I think the Town of Mount Jackson took a very well balanced view of the development of a solar farm in their town,” Gilliland said. “An elected body is tasked with a difficult job balancing culture, community and desires of their people, with economic growth and jobs and environmental benefit.”
Gilliland and Cypress Creek have been laying the foundation to start work as soon as they got the green light from Mount Jackson. Now, Gilliland said, they can start spending real money on the project.
“There’s a lot of study and analysis and work that goes into those state permits that developers won’t pay for until they know they have a project,” he said. “It’s exciting for us. We feel we have a level of support from the town.”
Despite the fact that projects II and III are on land adjacent to the first project underway, the permitting process starts back at square one Gilliland said.
“There’s no schedule or cost savings because of the location,” he said. “The permit-by-rule process takes about six months; then the stormwater process can take up to six months as well.”
There will be some time saved in that they can study the second and third sites at the same time, but proximity to already approved land doesn’t offer any kind of head start.
Before building starts on any solar project, energy companies need to complete studies to determine the effect farms will have on the existing grid. In Virginia, that means Cypress Creek has to wait for Dominion to finish its analysis before breaking ground.
“We know enough from Dominion at this point to know approximately how it will go,” Gilliland said. “It’s a matter of lining up the schedules.”
The final piece for projects to start is finding a buyer for the energy the farm will produce. Gilliland said Cypress Creek is still in talks with a potential buyer and will release the name once a deal is struck.
All council members were present for Tuesday’s meeting.