Council approves third solar farm

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2018

City Council voted 5-3 to approve another solar energy facility during its Wednesday evening meeting.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett and Councilmen Curtis Milteer and Lue Ward voted in opposition.

Stratford Solar Center LLC submitted a conditional use permit request to establish a solar energy facility on 154 acres stretched across three adjacent parcels on White Marsh Road.

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The parcels are currently vacant cropland owned by William and Barbara Hunter. The Hunters are leasing the property to the applicants for use.

“I think it’s a good move rather than putting housing on White Marsh Road,” Hunter said.

The project was not met with any opposition during the Planning Commission meeting in July, but the spokesman for the job, Kyle West, senior vice president with Coronal Energy, said he was made aware of opposition 48 hours prior to Wednesday’s public hearing.

“We just became aware of concerns,” West said.

Nearby residents raised concerns regarding hazardous materials related to solar farms, heat island effect, the 50-foot setback and construction inconveniences.

Prior to the opposition speaking in the meeting, West made remarks and presented research to dispel myths and reassure those opposed. The research presented was from studies done in Massachusetts and North Carolina, because there aren’t enough solar farms in Virginia to supply information for a study, according to West.

“I’m not exactly opposed to the project but I do have some strong concerns about it,” said White Marsh Road resident Sandy Toby.

She laid out concerns regarding loss of property value, the upkeep of the grounds and the noise from construction. She also didn’t agree with the studies West cited because of “different climates.”

Toby’s husband and another neighbor echoed the concerns from Toby, and they wanted more research to be done on the project before moving forward.

“I feel like a lot more research needs to be put into it,” said Tiffany Alexander, a White Marsh Road resident.

Councilman Tim Johnson also raised concerns about the upkeep of the solar facility, because they can become eyesores. Councilman Lue Ward’s was concerned about who would be obligated to maintain the site.

“We have a contractual obligation to maintain the facility. There will also be city and state regulations to follow, and we are incentivized to keep it at peak capacity,” West said.

Coronal Energy currently has facilities in Virginia that total 30 megawatts of production, and the new facility in Suffolk will provide roughly 15 megawatts.

The applicants previously submitted a request last year, and it had included a fourth parcel. They withdrew that application because the fourth parcel was designated for residential use in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

Previously, the Planning Commission and City Council have approved two applications for other solar energy facilities — Tradewind Energy and Juwi Inc.

It has been roughly a year since the first two were approved, but neither company has submitted site plans. According to Planning and Community Development, they have two years until they are required to submit plans.