Halifax County Board of Supervisors gave the green light to three more solar facilities, all in the Clover area, including one on county administrator Scott Simpson’s property.

Only one of those decisions was unanimous, approval of the solar facility to be located at 12047 James D. Hagood Highway, and two board members opposed a solar project approved for 1137 Coleman Avenue. 

Those same board members also opposed the four-megawatt solar facility to be placed on Simpson’s property at 1191 Mt. Laurel Road near Mill Road and one board member, ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon abstained from the vote.

Voting against the motion, which was made by ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco and seconded by ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short, was chairman Hubert Pannell and ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne. 

“This is about being fundamentally fair to everyone,” Bryant said prior to the vote.

He mentioned the solar facility that was denied by the board last month that had been proposed for Martin Trail on property belonging to Christopher or Bobbie Eller. Apex Clean Energy LLC had submitted a conditional use permit for the 39-acre project that consisted of 17.4 acres or 54.4% of prime farmland. 

It also was being actively farmed, was near cemeteries and neighbors opposed the project during a public hearing. 

At least three neighbors had opposed this approved project on Mt. Laurel Road at a recent joint public hearing between Halifax County Planning Commission and Halifax County Board of Supervisors. 

Francisco, who made the July motion to deny the solar facility proposed for Martin Trail, said he made the motion to deny the facility because the land encompassed 54.4% of prime farmland and was actively being farmed. 

Meanwhile, Pannell said he was “troubled” by Apex Clean Energy’s applicant for a solar facility on Simpson’s property. He proposed that the board table the matter until the full board could get further guidance from the county attorney. 

Francisco also noted in the meeting that he had  spoken to the county attorney, who advised him that as long as the applicant did not participate in the discussion then there would be no conflict of interest. 

Simpson, nor any representative from Apex Clean Energy, participated in the discussion among supervisors.

“Nothing is going to change. It’s a good site,” said Francisco.

He also advised the board that Apex Clean Energy had gone “above and beyond” to work with Simpson’s neighbors to resolve issues. 

Site conditions were added after the joint public hearing between supervisors and the planning commission. At that joint public hearing, neighbors told the boards that they did not want to see the solar facility, and they did not want it to negatively affect the stream near the property.

Simply put, they did not want the solar facility near their property.

To help lessen visibility and help with aesthetics, Francisco said Apex had decided to increase fencing around the solar facility from 6 feet to 8 feet high, plan to have a smooth anti-climbing devise at the top of the fence and will use green slats between the fencing.

Site conditions also were amended since the joint public hearing to include the 8-foot fence, a 50-foot buffer around the property where existing vegetation already does not exist and that buffer will not be maintained and left as a natural plant community. 

Another site condition was added saying the entrance to the facility will be moved from Mill Road to Mt. Laurel Road, in the north western corner of Simpson’s property, once construction is completed. The moved entrance will be used for maintenance and operation. 

After more discussion among board members about how Simpson’s job with the county should not have any say-so over whether or not they approve the permit, Francisco offered the motion to approve the solar facility along with 30 site conditions.

Supervisors also approved a five-megawatt solar facility to be located at 1137 Coleman Avenue on property owned by Thomas Coolbaugh and Gail Coolbaugh at a seven to one vote with Pannell offering the sole dissenting vote.

Neighbor Sharon Garrett and her husband had voiced opposition to this project due to the narrow turn to get onto Coleman Avenue, noise and other traffic concerns as well as concerns regarding her elderly mother. 

Prior to offering a motion to approve the permit, along with 28 site conditions, Francisco noted that he could not find any legal way to prohibit Apex Clean Energy from using the state-maintained secondary road.

However, he asked Apex Clean Energy representative Charlie Johnson, senior development manager of DER, to “please be respectful.”

“There’s nothing I can do for a site condition,” Francisco added. He also suggested Apex erect a sign advising their drivers to “drive slow, be courteous.”

ED-5 supervisor Dean Throckmorton seconded Francisco’s motion to approve the permit for Coleman Avenue, and it passed at a seven to one vote. 

Another five-megawatt solar facility was approved for property owned by Coolbaugh at 12047 James D. Hagood Highway with a unanimous vote. 

No one voiced opposition to this solar facility at a joint public hearing, and Francisco said he was unaware of any opposition. 

Halifax County Planning Commission had recommended approval of all of these permits. 

Apex Clean Energy hopes to join the Virginia Shared Solar Program and enter into a partnership with Dominion Energy. 

During the Virginia General Assembly 2020 session, house bill 1634 and senate bill 629, established a gateway for the State Corporation Commission to establish the Shared Solar Program. 

While these permits have been approved, it could still be years before the solar facility would be up and running.  

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com