Planners approve solar farm

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What would be Suffolk’s first solar farm got the nod of approval from Suffolk’s Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Tradewind Energy hopes to construct the solar farm on a 150-acre site at 5000 Pruden Blvd., near its intersections with Gardner Lane and Old Myrtle Road.

“There’s no project like this yet in Suffolk,” said Justin McGeeney, development manager of the Kansas-based company.

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He said Tradewind Energy started in 2002 and initially developed wind energy in the Midwest, later expanding to solar energy in the Southeast as well. The company’s portfolio powers more than a million U.S. households, McGeeney said.
Construction on the solar farm on Pruden Boulevard would likely begin in 2018 and last six to nine months. It is estimated to produce 150 to 200 jobs during construction, half of which would be sourced locally, McGeeney said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The $16 million project, once complete, would produce enough energy to power about 2,500 homes, McGeeney said.

One person spoke in opposition to the project during Tuesday’s public hearing. Robert Groh, whose property would be nearly surrounded by the project, said he believes it will lower his property value. The house is already on the market and isn’t selling, and he believes it’s because of this project.

“I’ve lived there for 16 years,” he said. “I believe that the project is going to lower the value of my property.”
McGeeney said a buffer of trees and shrubs at least 15 feet tall will be planted around the solar farm.

But some planning commissioners were more concerned about traffic safety. The project will be unmanned, so no employees will be traveling to the site daily after construction, although maintenance workers will check on it on a regular basis.

However, during peak construction, about 120 vehicles per day will be traveling to and from the site. That includes mostly employees arriving in their personal vehicles but also a few deliveries, McGeeney said.

That didn’t sit well with some commissioners on a busy road that already has lots of truck traffic and is prone to serious and sometimes fatal crashes.

“I wonder if this is the best location for it,” said Ronnie Rountree. “I’m just concerned about this safety issue.”

City traffic engineer Robert Lewis said turn lanes into the site will be required to be constructed and will remain after construction. He floated other measures, such as flashing lights and temporarily lowering the speed limit.

“When you slow speeds, you certainly lower capacity,” Lewis said.

But he acknowledged the roadway is an issue.

“We do have a significant problem out there,” he said. “There’s quite a significant amount of truck traffic already. It’s very unforgiving.”

Rountree and fellow commissioner Johnnie Edwards III voted against the conditional use permit request, but it still moved forward with six votes in favor. City Council is expected to hear the issue on July 19.