After listening to several proponents and opponents of the Fountain Creek Solar Project Special Use Permit request Monday, the Greensville County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, 4-0, to deny the application request.
“It will have a detrimental effect on adjacent and surrounding properties,” Supervisor Tony Conwell said in his motion to deny the application. “Certain portions of the proposed solar energy facility and the transmission line will not be adequately screened.”
The application for the construction of an 80-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generation facility would have been located on 802 acres with solar panels covering nearly 600 acres. The Brink area proposed solar farm was first submitted in December, revised, and resubmitted on Jan. 18. The proposed site is approximately eight miles southeast of Emporia.
The Planning Commission recently recommended approval of the application by a 5-3 vote, with a few conditions added to further mitigate any adverse impacts. The Supervisors were not convinced. Conwell said the proposal does not preserve the rural character of the land and cited the 2.2-mile transmission line that would cross Pine Log Rd. During public comment there were speakers that agreed with the Board’s decision to reject the bid, but there were others that spoke urging the Board to approve the request.
“The nostalgia of our childhood is simply not the reality our future,” Brink area resident Penny Powell said. “The structure of rural communities is again changing. As you know, the practicality of earning a living as a farmer has been devoured by modern commerce and there is only a mere handful of family operations still in existence.”
Jim Ferguson said the former owner of the land, the late Pender Lee Smith, saw solar as a potential source of income and the Fountain Creek Solar Project proposal is the best to come before the Supervisors, including the previously approved Meherrin Solar and TradeWind Energy bids for a special use permit. Smith’s granddaughter, Amy Lifsey said farming and timber sales no longer support families as it once did and the solar proposal would allow the land to be profitable for the families involved.
“I’m asking you to allow our land, and this is our land, to be used in a positive and productive way,” she said. “This goes deeper, a lot deeper for me. It’s not just about solar. It’s also about honoring and respecting Pender Smith and his wishes for successful land use being passed not to just my generation, but to my daughter’s generation.”
David Stoner, a consultant for the Clearway Energy Group, said there would be a $100 million investment the County and an estimated $115,000 of tax revenue would be generated for the County in its first year of operation. In the 30-year life of the project there would be more than $1 million in tax revenue. He said the economic benefits would also be felt during the construction phase as it was during the Dominion Power Project, though not at the same scale.
Wilson Clary spoke during public comment and used Stoner’s economic projections to urge the Supervisors to approve the project. Clary said when he worked with the IDC Board he was part of a group hunting businesses for Emporia-Greensville. With Fountain Creek Solar it is the Board being hunted for an opportunity to bring business into the area.
“We would certainly urge you to allow land owners to do what they would like to do with their property, in compliance with the County Comprehensive Plan, and be able to fulfill that,” he said.
Several others spoke in favor of the Board approving the Fountain Creek Solar application, but arguments against the solar project included a landowner citing his land is locked against the Meherrin River and due to the topography, rainwater running from the solar farm it would forever change the topography of his parcel.
Julia Pair said she was worried about zinc and other possible impacts the solar farm would have to her well water.
Angel Allen worried about the potential construction workers that would be brought in to build the facility and the safety of her children. She also expressed concern about the impact on the quality of life.
“I live in the country for a reason,” she said. “I want country life. It’s not something I want to get up and see. My house is right at the main entrance of this project,so I am not happy about it.”
Allen said she grew up on the land riding horses and 4-wheelers. She said she wants her children and grandchildren to have the same opportunities afforded that she had growing up.
Benny Ligon said the project does not preserve the rural characteristics of the County and it is only 600 feet from the Meherrin Solar Project.
He also said the 2.2-mile transmission line would cross Pine Log Rd. and would be visible to those driving by the project.
Supervisor William Cain expressed concerns about zinc concentrations causing zinc toxicity in some crops. In the end Cain and his fellow Supervisors were swayed by the arguments against allowing the Fountain Creek Solar Project to move forward.