The Water Strider project, a proposed 80-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility on 960 acres fronting Stage Coach Road at 1100 Jenny’s Ruff Trail in Nathalie, is pushing for construction to start in the spring, but the project must jump through a number of hoops before construction can start.
According to Detrick Easley, county planning and zoning administrator, the county must approve a seeding mix for the required pollinators to be part of the buffer around the project, and it has brought in National Resource Conservation Service as a consultant toward that goal.
The project must then submit stormwater plans to DEQ for its approval and have erosion control plans submitted to county officials for their review prior to application for a building permit.
In June, DEQ issued a permit on construction and operation for Water Stride Solar.
In May 2018, supervisors granted a conditional use permit for Water Strider to build the solar facility following a public hearing where a number of adjacent property owners and other concerned residents, most of whom opposed the project, spoke their opinions.
Rhonda Guthrie, Gregory Wade, Weldon Anderson, Wayne Tribble, Debbie Stovall and Eddie Austin all spoke in opposition to the project, and some of the speakers later filed a civil suit against the county and Water Strider that was dismissed in March.
Guthrie, whose farm borders the solar farm, told supervisors a real estate agent she consulted told her that property values adjacent to a solar farm would decrease anywhere from 10-15 percent.
“No one can say what the long-term effects are of living next to 1,000 acres of solar panels for 30 years,” said Guthrie, who asked for additional setbacks if the permit was approved.
Wade said it didn’t appear the project could be stopped but instead asked for financial compensation for adjacent property owners.
“It’s a commercial project, and being compensated shouldn’t be a problem,” said Wade.
Stovall said she felt for farmers whose property values could be affected by construction of the solar facility, and Austin, a vocal opponent of solar farms from the beginning, presented a petition with 133 signatures opposing the solar facility.
“In my talking to people, nobody wants it but people getting a check, and I can’t think of anything in that neighborhood causing more hate and contempt,” said Austin.
Tribble, also spoke against the solar facility during a public hearing held by Halifax County planners a month earlier, again expressed his concerns.
“I’m against it, I don’t begrudge my neighbors, but…” said Tribble.
He asked again if roles were reversed, with all the uncertainties surrounding the project, how would supervisors want him to vote?
Campbell County resident Paul Marshall and Nathalie residents Brenda Short and Vickie Barker spoke in support of the project, as did Water Strider representatives Will Shumate, Richard Kirkland, Chris Sandifer, Tommy Cleveland and Walter Putnam.
Marshall, a Campbell County resident who has a timber and beef operation on a 100-acre farm, uses solar power on his farm.
One of the landowners for the property proposed for the solar facility, Barker said she received no special treatment in negotiating a price for her land, adding she did not fear any negative impact from the solar panels.
Short, another adjacent property owner and cattle farmer, said she was not worried about any negative impact on their farm from solar panels.
“Renewable energy is not going away. My question to you is will you be part of it?” Short asked supervisors. “It’s natural to fear change. It’s an opportunity for Halifax County to establish technology that’s safe and clean in order for us to be competitive in the 21st century.”
Proposals for solar facilities in Halifax County brought both support and condemnation during 2018, with supporters pointing to the potential for increased tax revenues and more environmentally friendly energy production, while detractors said the facilities would not benefit the county financially, be an eyesore and detract from the rural nature of the county.
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors took a step back from approving conditional use permits in 2018, denying permits for a 16.6-megawatt facility on Stagecoach Road in Nathalie in September.
Supervisors earlier in the year denied a conditional use permit for a 10-megawatt solar facility near Dogwood Trail on the east side of Huell Matthews Highway south of South Boston.
At least five solar farm facilities had been given the green light prior to supervisors’ denial of conditional use permits for the last two solar facilities.
As a result to the opposition for the Water Strider LLC solar project, a civil lawsuit was filed in June 2018 against the solar company doing business in Halifax County and the Halifax County Board of Supervisors.
Plaintiffs in the civil suit filed in Halifax County Circuit Court included Franklin Edward “Eddie” Austin, Charlotte Waller, George and Angela A. Tribble, Gary E. and Rhonda W. Guthrie and Nettie Lorean Wade.
Each plaintiff, individually or jointly, owns property adjoining and directly adjacent to the proposed solar facility to be developed, according to the suit.
Plaintiffs asked that the decision to grant the conditional use permit be overturned and temporarily restrain Water Strider Solar from further construction or other work on the facility until a hearing could be held, where the plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction against the facility, according to the suit.
That suit was dismissed in March of this year, according to court documents.