Group seeks restrictions on solar

Published 1:45 pm Thursday, December 3, 2020

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The Lunenburg County Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the Red Brick Solar Project’s comprehensive plan  Jan. 19 while the Friends of the Meherrin River want a moratorium placed on solar sites.

Red Brick Solar is a planned solar facility that will be located approximately four miles southwest of Victoria.

South Hill Attorney John Janson, a member of the Friends of the Meherrin River and counsel for the group, presented the Lunenburg Board of Supervisors (BOS) with a 29-point list of proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance.

Janson said the Red Brick Solar project proposed by Apex Clean Energy and SolUnesco is to be located next to the Meherrin River on steep timber cover land that will be highly erosive.

“We ask that the county place a moratorium on permitting and construction of any industrial scale solar sites that are not currently under construction,” Janson said. “This moratorium shall remain in place until such a time as the industry can prove that these sites will not cause a net carbon emission increase or pose a contamination risk to the local water resources here in the state of Virginia.”

Janson further said that Lunenburg should acknowledge in its ordinance that these large scale solar industrial utility solar sites are not farms and are not conducive to agriculture.

“These are not farms,” Janson said. “These are industrial facilities. It is not clean energy, and it is not efficient.”

Are you in favor of the Red Brick Solar Project being approved by county officials?

  • Yes (70%, 21 Votes)
  • No (30%, 9 Votes)
  • No opinion (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 30

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According to Janson, solar becomes problematic when it is placed near water supplies.

“If it is kept in open land there is not as much of an issue,” he said. “But to come in and take land that is rough and full of timber and cut that timber and think that you are not going to have run off is wrong … there is going to be erosion.”

According to Janson, the Friends of the Meherrin River would like to see the zoning ordinance:

• Changed to require a slope ordinance that specifies no area with an existing grade greater than 4% be used for panels.

• Require that all brush, stumps and organic matter be ground and spread on site.

• Prohibit all burning on all projects, existing or planned.

• Require that all facilities must have a baseline environmental study that tests air quality, every well and every water resource within a mile of the site prior to construction and then again on an annual basis, or more frequently if needed to confirm that there is no contamination from the industrial scale solar operation or its construction.

• Ban the use of any panels or components for the panels not made in and assembled in the United States.

Red Brick Solar submitted an official conditional use permit application to Lunenburg in early April but withdrew its request in July after there were more topics the company wanted to build upon, according to Jaci Friedley, director of public engagement with Apex Clean Energy.

Glenn Millican Jr., clerk of the Lunenburg Planning Commission, said that on Sept. 9, a meeting was held at the request of Red Brick with County Administrator Tracy Gee, County Attorney Frank Rennie and himself.

“There was a general discussion of data and requirements for a new application,” Millican said. “No decisions or commitments were made other than Red Brick’s intent to refile at a later date.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, Public Engagement Manager Natasha Montague with Apex Clean Energy confirmed that the Red Brick Solar project has an active application with Lunenburg County for a conditional use permit.

“Though public hearings have not been set for the conditional use permit, we expect to begin that process in early 2021,” Montague said.

Solar projects like Red Brick Solar must comply with strict federal, state and local laws regarding construction and operation management. Montague said Red Brick Solar will be designed to meet all federal, state and local permitting requirements, including environmental compliance.

“Stormwater and runoff management is regulated at the federal, state and local level,” Montague said.  “Existing laws and regulations will govern Red Brick. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Southside Soil and Water Conservation District will review Red Brick’s engineering to minimize run-off and the flow of sediment into nearby waterways or neighboring properties, both during construction and during operations.”

According to Apex Clean Energy, Red Brick Solar’s solar panel clusters are anticipated to utilize the flattest land possible.

“In some cases, grading will be necessary to address localized topographic issues during construction, but Red Brick will avoid making any fundamental changes to the topography of the project site,” Montague said.

Though preliminary designs are in process, the grading plan has not yet been finalized.