Despite some reservations, New Kent leaders green-light solar facility project
New Kent supervisors unanimously approved the construction of a solar facility in the Barhamsville area of the county during the board’s June 13 monthly meeting.
Virginia Solar/Sunworks LLC first presented the proposal at the April meeting of the county’s planning commission. After receiving feedback from community meetings and a May public hearing by commissioners, recommendation for approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) was sent to county leaders.
A public hearing at the supervisors’ monthly meeting yielded no speakers, but questions and concerns about the proposal were raised by the county leaders. Chairman and District 4 representative Ron Stiers challenged Virginia Solar/Sunworks representative Matthew Mears on the projection and economic impact the project will bring to the county.
“It’s deceiving,” Stiers said, pointing to the $43 million figure that the facility is projected to garner over the next 35 years ($1.2 million per year). “I don’t see how you got these figures and how you can guarantee this is how much will come through the county.”
Mears commented that after an inquiry from District 2 representative Tommy Tiller at the planning commissioners’ meeting, he returned with information detailing the projections.
“Solar is considered to be the next for the ‘new generation’ of power,” Mears said. “While the price will never be as low as natural gas, it is the way most major power companies are going.”
Stiers still remained dissatisfied with the spokesman’s response.
“You’re building a facility here in New Kent that will have little impact and that is supposed to bring power, but you’re selling that power to a potential buyer in Northern Virginia,” the chairman countered. “We may see just a little economic impact from this other than taxes it will bring.”
District 5 representative Ray Davis said many solar facilities up and down the East Coast are benefiting from similar locations such as New Kent, but for other reasons.
“This is not economically feasible, it’s politically feasible,” he commented. “Tax credits are what’s driving this project.”
District 1 representative Thomas Evelyn compiled some quick calculations to compare how cluster subdivisions could have occupied the 484-acre tract of land.
“Roughly 250 to 275 cluster subdivisions could fit into that area,” Evelyn said, making note of how the solar facility will occupy 250 acres of that land. “I am putting into perspective what could be done with that proposal.”
Despite some reservations, supervisors believe a positive impact to the county will be provided by the solar farm. According to Mears, the 20-megawatt facility is expected to generate 13 direct jobs one indirect job, and one induced job during the construction phase and an additional indirect and induced job during post-construction.
Work is scheduled to begin in March 2017, with peak operating months beginning in July and concluding in September. The project is expected to be completed by December 1, 2017.
In an unrelated item, construction of the roundabout at the intersection of Route 249 (New Kent Highway) and Route 612 (Airport/Tunstall Road) continues to run behind schedule.
Evelyn asked VDOT maintenance operations manager David Christoph about the completion date. Christoph commented that the project is 77 days behind schedule. The intersection was expected to be completed on July 1 after the hiring of a new contractor.
Originally the project, which is now entering year two, was expected to be complete last December. But after a dispute with the original contractor in July 2015, operations came to a halt.
The roundabout is now targeted to be completed sometime during Fall 2016.