McLemore attempts to revive ‘Solar City’ plan

Published 9:36 am Friday, May 5, 2017

Councilman Greg McLemore is trying to revive his proposal to turn Franklin into “Solar City USA.” On Wednesday morning, he met with Mayor Frank Rabil, City Manager R. Randy Martin and Amanda Jarratt, CEO of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc., to discuss the feasibility of his plan.

His proposal, titled the Virginia Solar City Initiative, calls for the installation of electricity-generating solar panels on every building and home in the city, which he claims could allow Franklin’s residents to eventually have free electricity for life. The way this would work, he said, is if the city were able to buy solar panels in bulk at a reduced price and resell them to citizens, who could then pay the city for the panels and installation in monthly installments in lieu of an electric bill.

Once paid off, the citizens would own the panels and could theoretically even earn income from any electricity generated in excess of what they would need on a daily basis to power their homes, by selling the excess to Dominion Power via existing transmission lines.

“I would never attempt to pitch something like this to the city of Suffolk; there’s just too many people and too many buildings,” McLemore said. “We are just small enough to make this work.”

He added that he felt the implementation of this plan and the subsequent rebranding of Franklin as “Solar City USA” would help spur tourism, both from people who wanted to see the city’s solar accomplishment and from tourists looking for a less expensive place to stay during their travels to attractions such as Virginia Beach and Colonial Williamsburg. The resulting boost to Franklin’s tourism industry, he said, would create numerous hospitality-related jobs.

McLemore had first suggested the idea in 2010 but had requested funding from the city, which his fellow council members did not feel the city could afford at the time. According to Ward Two Councilman Benny Burgess, who was on council at the time McLemore made his first request, the council had no problem with him pursuing the idea on his own, but declined his funding request on the grounds that the city was still suffering the immediate aftermath of International Paper closing in 2009 and the financial crisis and housing market collapse of 2008.

This time around, however, during Wednesday’s meeting, Jarratt agreed to contact Dominion and try to set up a meeting with their representatives to discuss McLemore’s solar city proposal. He called the meeting “productive” and was generally pleased with the outcome of the initial discussion of his proposal.

“At least we’re beginning to look; we’re not closing our eyes,” McLemore said. “We aren’t doing anything, in a sense, as a city yet because to do anything as a city we have to have [at least] four votes [during a council meeting.] All we’ve done is asked FSEDI to schedule a meeting for us.”

The councilman added that he had also recently spoken with Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson regarding the possibility of having one or more county representatives on his proposed feasibility committee, should Franklin’s council approve its creation. Johnson said he told McLemore at the time that, procedurally, his first step should be to obtain consensus from his fellow council members and then, if they decide to proceed with the committee, Franklin’s mayor should contact the county to request one or more representatives.

Jarratt said that, as of Thursday, she had reached out to Dominion representatives in hopes of scheduling a meeting with them at some point next week to discuss their opinion of the project’s feasibility and get their input, but has not heard back yet.