PULASKI — A Chicago-based company is aiming to build a 2,700-acre solar farm on various pieces of property throughout the county.
Hecate Energy is requesting a special-use permit from the county to lease several pieces of land zoned for agriculture to build a solar farm that will generate up to 280 megawatts of renewable energy, according to its application with the county.
The company already has interest from approximately 20 entities, both from individual farmers and their families and from partnerships that own land, according to Hecate spokesman Jay Poole.
Poole wrote that the life of the project is expected to be approximately 35 years. It will use the same kind of panels already in use in the New River Valley in places like Carilion New River Valley Medical Center, Volvo, office buildings in the town of Pulaski and on the rooftops of other businesses and homes.
“The solar panels ... used in this project are standard crystalline silicon panels. Silicon, plastic and steel are the predominant materials in the solar panels and the predominant material in silicon is sand,” he wrote. “These solar panels are very much like a windshield. There are layers of silicon and plastic which are encapsulated by glass to prevent shattering. ... The newest generation of panels that will be used in the facility are manufactured to dramatically reduced the amount of glare created by the solar panels.”
The panels would be replaced as needed throughout the duration of the project and recycled once the farm is no longer in use, according to Poole.
The power generated would be sold to companies like Appalachian Power Co. to help meet state regulations that dictate that a certain amount of the utility’s power comes from renewable sources, Poole wrote.
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said the project is not only good for the environment and the individuals leasing their land, but for the county’s pocketbook as well.
He said the total investment in the project is estimated to be nearly $400 million, and it will generate $420,000 annually in additional tax revenue, or approximately $15 million over the next 35 years.
“By the time this project is completed, we will be one of the greenest counties in Virginia, if not the entire Eastern Seaboard,” Sweet said, noting that the additional revenue could be used to build a recreation center for the county.
Poole said if the project is approved, construction could begin by September 2021 and would take approximately 10 to 12 months. He also said the roughly 130 construction jobs needed to complete the project would, in part, likely be filled by local residents.
Hecate has said there would be minimal impact to the surrounding area during construction, which would use no heavier machinery than what is currently being used for agricultural activity. The company’s application says construction would be conducted between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., and major construction activities would be limited to the delivery of components, piling installations and cable trenching.
While Hecate and Sweet are seeing the sunny side of things, not everyone is basking in the idea of a solar farm taking up several thousand acres of what has been agricultural land.
County residents Joe Meek and Ben Davidson are two of hundreds of members of a recently formed Facebook group against the project, Save Pulaski County Farms.
They believe the land should be preserved for agricultural use and not leased to Hecate to build the solar farm they both referred to as an “eyesore.”
Meek — who is the owner of the Pulaski Livestock Market in Dublin — in 2003 purchased Kent Farm, where he lives and farms. He said his property overlooks land where part of the project would be sited.
“One of the reasons we bought this place was the view,” he said. “It’s also prime farmland.”
Hecate has said that its solar farms will be 6 to 10 feet above the ground at their highest points.
Meek said he was told by someone from the commissioner of the revenue’s office that the solar farms wouldn’t negatively affect the value of adjacent properties.
“That may be true from a real estate assessment point of view, but who wants to buy a house next to 300 or 400 acres of solar farms?” he said.
Davidson echoed some of Meek’s points.
“We wanted to build our dream house on a piece of property my in-laws own that would be located next to one of the solar farms. Who wants to look at that?” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people may not have purchased property in an agricultural area if they knew there would be solar panel farms next to it for the next several decades.”
Sweet said while he understands some of the concerns of county residents, ultimately it is up to landowners what they do with their property.
“It is a good case study on property rights. At a certain point, what say does a person have on what is on their neighbor’s property?” he said.
The planning commission has a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 12. It will consider the application and provide a recommendation to the board of supervisors. Supervisors will hold another public hearing and vote on the matter Jan. 25.
For more information about the project, visit www.pulaskicounty.org/planning-zoning.html.