Pulaski County Supervisors pass permit for Solar Farm

New River Valley News

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Pulaski County Supervisors voted in support of the special use permit application from Hecate Energy out of Chicago.

The vote was 3-1 in favor with Board Chairman Joe Guthrie abstaining.

Hecate has proposed a solar farm project that would be placed on approximately 2,700 acres of Pulaski County farmland, leased from landowners for a period of 35 years.

One vote from the board that’s been called into question is Board Chairman, Joe Guthrie.

Guthrie has family land, currently in his mother’s name, that Hecate will be leasing from over the 35-year lease.

County citizens opposed to the project say Guthrie should not have voted, due to a conflict of interest, but Commonwealth Attorney for Pulaski County, Justin Griffith, wrote an opinion letter on the issue.

Griffith stated that Guthrie was not barred from voting on the project, since he is not the only landowner that will be impacted, compensated, by the project.

Now that the project is moving forward, those in favor of the project are excited about the potential the future holds for economic development opportunities.

“It’s just like energy infrastructure, just like a road, just like a sewer facility,” said Jay Poole, a consultant from Hecate’s Richmond affiliate, AgriSunPower LLC. “It’s going to be an attractor for the kinds of industries that are going to broaden the tax base even further.”

Panel installation is estimated to take 10 to 12 months, once ground is broken.

The project stands to generate $420,000 annually in additional tax revenue and create 130 temporary construction jobs.

County residents who were against the project hoped for a better outcome from the meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.

A petition was started in late November and had acquired over 400 signatures prior to the B.O.S. meeting.

Some felt the county planning commission’s vote of 4-2 in support of the special use permit application was the nail in the coffin.

Farmers like Meek, whose properties border the proposed project line say their concerned about if/how chemical runoff will affect their water supply, as several properties in that area use well water.

Hecate assures in their project overview that “there are no materials that will leak out or pollute the air or ground.”

There’s also the concern of visual appearance, how this completed project will look to neighboring landowners who are used to seeing scenic farmland.

Poole states Hecate makes a point of using the natural landscape to mitigate views of the panels.

“That means we’re going to have trees. That means we’re going to have vegetation so that people don’t have to look at the solar panels,” Poole said. “In many cases, the facility (solar panels) will be way beyond the fence line and road lines. It’s not as if they’re going to be right there.”

It’s not yet been confirmed if there will be future protests or lawsuits to slow the process of the project.

If approved, this will be the third-largest solar farm on the east coast.

As of now, Hecate reps and county leaders are chalking up the meeting’s vote as a win in the name of green energy and economic development.

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