Planning commission holds workshop session on solar farm

Published 11:21 am Friday, July 22, 2016

The Southampton County Planning Commission met with community leaders on July 14 to discuss the practicalities of operating an energy-generating solar farm in Southampton County.

The proposed site sits on 1,200 acres outside of Boykins, and is expected to create enough electricity to power approximately 20,000 households in the Western Tidewater area. If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the solar farm would be the largest such plant in Virginia.

Speakers from the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Black & Veatch — a global engineering, construction and management company — gave presentations to provide more information about the policies and regulations involved in maintaining a solar farm.

“The meeting was very productive,” said Jack Randall, vice chairman of the planning commission. “We had several experts that spoke on the general aspects of solar power. It was very informative.”

“Since August 2015, there have been 19 applications submitted these kinds of projects across Virginia,” said Joe Lerch, director of local government policy at the Virginia Association of Counties in his remarks.

“Project areas range from 77 acres to 1,200 acres, and depending on size, generate from six megawatts to 100 megawatts,” he added.

A megawatt is a standard measurement of electrical energy. One megawatt is enough power to roughly 100 homes.

Lerch noted that solar projects, which generate in excess of five megawatts, are eligible for an 80 percent exemption from the Virginia machine and tool tax, if a request to interconnect with electric utility is filed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

He also reminded commissioners to determine the project’s potential compatibility with agricultural land use, and when appropriate, to include a requirement to return the land to its pre-existing conditions when solar panels are no longer in use.

Mary Major, representing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, also spoke.

“I explained the components of the Permit by Rule and provided instruction as to where to find important information on our web page,” she said.

Permit by Rule means that a project is determined to have a permit if it meets the appropriate requirements. Major provided information on all the requirements that must be fulfilled in order for a solar farm to be deemed operational by VDEQ. These requirements include the notice of intent, local government certification, interconnection agreements with electrical companies, environmental impact analyses and operating plans among others.

John Miller and Sherry Kirkpatrick of Black & Veatch also spoke. Both are project managers in Black & Veatch’s renewable energy division.

“Our role in the meeting was to answer questions from the planning commission regarding the technical aspects of solar photovoltaic [panels],” they said in a statement. Neither are involved with the proposed farm in Boykins, so they could only provide general information about the process. This included the PJM Generation Interconnection process and project decommissioning.

PJM Interconnection coordinates and directs the operation of our region’s electrical transmission grids, and must also approve the project before the solar farm can become operational.

Project decommissioning occurs should the solar farm become nonviable or unused, and involves the removal of electrical equipment, scrap metal and other materials from the project site.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the solar farm project on Thursday, Aug. 11.