Halifax County Planning Commission

Dozens attend the Halifax County Planning Commission meeting and listen as planners recommend approval of a pair of conditional use permits to construct two solar farms following public hearings during Tuesday’s meeting. But just as before, the votes did not come without opposition.

Halifax County planners recommended approval of a pair of conditional use permits to construct two solar farms following public hearings during Tuesday’s meeting. But just as before, the votes did not come without opposition.

Planners voted 4-3 to recommend approval of a conditional use permit application from SB Solar, LLC to install a 10-megawatt solar energy facility on 134 acres at 2841 Huell Matthews Highway at its intersection with Dogwood Trail in South Boston.

On a motion by Mark Trickey, planners approved the SB Solar site with the 24 conditions and a requirement the setback be 150 feet from the power line easement that runs parallel to Huell Matthews Highway and a requirement for a 150-foot setback from the VDOT property line on East Hyco Road.

Trickey, Gwendolyn Smith-Mangum, Mattie Cowan and Ray Waller voted to recommend approval, while planners Rosemary Ramsey, Bruce Pearce and J. R. Davis voted against.

Planners voted unanimously to recommend approval of a conditional use permit from Water Strider Solar, LLC to install a 80-megawatt solar energy facility at 1100 Jenny’s Ruff Trail in Nathalie, following a public hearing on Monday.

The facility is planned for 960 acres fronting Stage Coach Road at the intersection of Jenny’s Ruff Trail and Bull Creek Road.

Planner J. Hudson Reese was absent from Monday’s meeting.

SB permit approval recommended after split vote

Planners voted 4-3 on Tuesday to recommend the county board of supervisors approve a conditional use permit for the SB Solar site to move forward.

Adjacent residents and property owners along Huell Matthews Highway and East Hyco Road appeared in numbers to oppose the plan, grilling Cypress Creek Renewables representatives and other industry officials on the value of solar farms and their effect on property values.

Marry Garrard Brooks, one of three landowners of the property projected for use as a solar farm, spoke in favor of the permit.

“My dad was Samuel Owen Brooks. He and his family have owned this land for over 200 years,” she said. “We’ve prided ourselves on being good stewards of the land, so therefore when we did harvest timbering we made sure we replanted the land with trees.

“The land has been sitting with nothing happening for 40-50 years, and we saw this as a beautiful opportunity to work with the solar company that we thought was very much eco-friendly, with no noise and increase in traffic while (solar farm) was in operation and no offensive smell. We entered into this in good faith, and we hope and pray that you will see fit to grant this opportunity, not only to benefit the Brooks and Dunkins but all of Halifax County.”

Adjacent land owners were not so happy to see a solar farm proposed for Huell Matthews Highway, with East Hyco Road property owners Wendy James Woltz, Kendall Good and Terri Murray asking for additional setbacks and buffering.

Roger Slagle Sr., along with sons Roger Slagle Jr. and Charles Slagle owns three houses on 501 directly across from the proposed solar farm.

“Let’s get over getting up every morning and looking at a solar farm across the road, that’s just the way it is, but I really think the land lends itself to future development a lot more than this,” said Slagle. “We need water and sewer out there. We have a couple of more lots we’d like to build on, but I think a solar farm would prohibit future development on 501 south.”

Roger Slagle Jr. agreed that future development along 501 south would be stymied if a solar farm is built along Huell Matthews Highway.

“This is in an urban planning area,” he explained. “I think it will be a major blow to the county to do this. There’ll be no development on the south side of South Boston.”

M. C. Day III owns property that looks down on the proposed solar farm site, and he told planners no amount of buffering or setbacks would hide it from his view.

“I can assure you, talking about property values, the day I do sell my house, the last thing anybody is gonna wanna do is look out across the field and see nothing but solar panels,” said Day.

Day disagreed with Cypress Creek representatives, including Zoning and Outreach Manager Parker Sloan and attorney William Shewmake, that existing energy facilities in the county using other methods of making electricity, such as coal and wood, wouldn’t be affected by solar farms.

“They won’t bring any jobs into the county,” said Day.

Huell Matthews Highway resident Tim Cole owns a home and property below Highway 501 and has concerns about runoff during construction, and Roy Mitchell told planners he doubts any amount of disagreement with solar farms would make any difference.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an exercise in futility with people speaking against this,” said Mitchell. “Your mind is made up.”

He questioned Cypress Creek Renewables’ estimate of the number of homes powered by solar farms, and the amount of revenue they will bring the county.

“Ask them where the contractors came from for the last two solar projects and ask them how many people will be employed in Halifax County,” Mitchell told planners. “The tax revenue gained will not meet the financial needs of this county.

“I’m more disappointed that the constituents who have walked up here and spoke were not listened to, and only people who spoke in favor are getting checks.”

Adjacent property owner Donnie Ellington, who owns a tract of land at the intersection of Huell Matthews Highway and East Hyco Road, said he was personally opposed to solar farms in the first place.

“These people can tell me all they want it won’t affect my property values. I don’t see any enhancement to Halifax County from this solar farm being on this piece of property at this time,” said Ellington.

“This project will not generate any money and won’t generate any money once it’s through and done with,” he added. “I’ll stand up here ‘til the day I die and tell you the same thing.”

Sloan told planners that electricity generated by the project would be “used in this area,” and Cypress construction project manager Laurie Lee told planners that her team goes into each community prior to construction to seek out specific services and contractors.

“We would be employing local people to do these services, including hundreds of electricians,” said Lee.

“We also will be increasing purchases of soil and stone in your community, and landscaping services. We absolutely seek out local contractors.”

Permit approval recommended for Water Strider project

Planners unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Water Strider Solar, LLC to install an 80-megawatt solar energy facility on 960 acres fronting Stage Coach Road in Nathalie at Tuesday’s meeting.

Landowner Vickie Barker spoke in favor of the conditional use permit, while adjacent landowners Wayne Tribble, Rhonda Guthrie, Eddie Austin and Gregory Wade expressed their opposition.

Opponents to the project also presented a petition with 50 signatures of residents against the project.

Barker said Cypress Creek Renewables and Geenex have spent a lot of time with her during the process of applying for the conditional use permit.

“They have spent a lot of time with us and our negotiations,” said Barker. “We’re willing to have the project next to us, and I see no negative impacts.”

Tribble said he couldn’t get a definitive answer from Cypress Creek representatives concerning impacts the project would have on adjacent landowners three to four years down the road.

Guthrie told planners the proposed solar farm borders her property on three sides, saying she wouldn’t want anyone to be surrounded by a solar farm.

Guthrie worried about the effect the farm would have on the environment and property values and after many hours of research has concluded they have the potential to cause problems.

Guthrie wants even further setbacks than those proposed for the Water Strider site, and she told planners she just didn’t know of the long-term effects of living around a solar farm.

Wade and Austin agreed that solar farms would have a detrimental effect on adjoining property values, with Austin telling planners that many people move to Halifax County to get away from solar farms.

Austin has an issue with the state allowing a locality to tax 20 percent of a solar project, with Halifax County receiving credit in the composite index for what it taxes.

What the county gets does not balance with the state allowed to tax 80 percent of a solar project, Austin noted.

“For anyone who finds no problem with property values, I can find one who sees a problem,” said Austin.

Sloan and Walter Putnam, director of land development for Geenex, provided a letter written by Chris Sandifer, an electrical engineer and consultant to planners that stated the solar project would have no impact on temperature or rainfall.

Wildlife corridors also are planned, and the developers of the project are working with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to satisfy all their requirements.

Putnam told planners the technology used to build solar panels was first used by NASA, and he added he has found no impact on public health and safety from solar farms.

He told opponents the solar farm developers are proposing additional side yard setbacks from 25-50 feet and additional buffering.

Both conditional use permit applications advance to a public hearing before the Halifax County Board of Supervisors at its May 7 meeting.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.