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Commission evenly split on Wilroy Road solar farm

A 3-megawatt solar farm planned for nearly 130 acres off of Wilroy Road near the planned U.S. Route 58 flyover by the regional landfill has burned an even split into the Planning Commission.

In a pair of 4-4 votes, the commission failed to come to an agreement. That means the permit application will be forwarded to City Council without a recommendation.

Commissioners Oliver Creekmore, Kittrell Eberwine, Johnnie Edwards and Gerald Goodman voted in favor of denying the permit, while Commissioners Anita Hicks, John Rector, new Chairman Arthur Singleton and Mills Staylor voted against denial.

City Council is expected to take up the proposed solar farm at its Aug. 18 meeting.

Solenis LLC and the Community Power Group have partnered to develop the solar facility on Wilroy Road and Long Point Lane, and just under 18 acres of the property is part of the conditional use permit request.

The single axis tracking, photovoltaic solar panels will be eight feet high and surrounded by a seven-foot tall game fence, with the panels designed to absorb sunlight and treated with anti-reflective coatings. The arrays of solar panels would be mounted on racking that would be pile-supported off the ground, and the single-axis tracking and motor equipment would help track the path of the sun throughout the day. There would also be a 15-foot vegetative buffer.

The site will have a single entrance off of Wilroy Road.

The Public Works Department’s traffic engineering division has determined that for trucks delivering materials to the site during construction, their most appropriate haul route would be from the south via Wilroy Road to the U.S. Route 58 Bypass.

Amberli Young, a senior project manager for the Community Power Group, told the commission during a public hearing at its July 20 meeting that the project has been selected for a power purchase agreement with Dominion Energy as part of its compliance with the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

A glare study determined that there would be no glare coming from the project, and Young, in responding to a question from Commissioner Anita Hicks, said there would also be no glare that would impact the flyover coming on Nansemond Parkway, not far from the proposed project. She said there would also be additional screening in that area.

Young also said that the smaller string inverters used would likely be located near the facility’s center to minimize noise beyond its perimeter. That noise, she said, would only be during the day, as the solar farm would go into standby mode at night.

The closest residential area from someone’s back door to any solar panel would be about 500 feet.

Commissioner Mills Staylor said he is concerned about the visibility of the site from the road, while Kittrell Eberwine recalled a previous comment Staylor made about the location of a solar project being key.

“Wilroy Road is a very busy road coming from northern Suffolk into downtown,” Eberwine said. “And I just have a hard time supporting these things that are right on the main drag coming into our city. Again, location, location.”

Commissioner John Rector agreed with the comment about the location of solar farms being a critical consideration, and said he was looking at how close the site would be to residents in the area. But he said given the proposed solar farm’s proximity to a nearby chemical plant, “I kind of set the visualization part of it aside because it’s already in an industrially-developed area, so I didn’t really consider it an impractical use of this little piece of property.”

Julian Bray, engineering and maintenance manager for Solenis, believes the site works well for the company and would be a helpful asset to residents.

“This is an ideal opportunity not only for Solenis,” Bray said, “but (also) for the community to benefit from an investment in a renewable energy facility that will benefit the whole community.”