Solar company files appeal over decision

Published 11:45 am Thursday, April 15, 2021

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The applicants of Lunenburg County’s newest proposed solar farm were dealt a blow last month when the Planning Commission tied in a vote  to decide if the project was in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan.

The fate of Red Brick Solar’s project now lies in the hands of the Board of Supervisors.

John Puvak of Gentry Locke Attorneys, who represent Red Brick Solar, has requested that the Lunenburg Board of Supervisors overrule the Planning Commission’s action and present his client’s contention that the Red Brick Project is in substantial accord with the county’s comprehensive plan.

“Our team is confident that the Red Brick Solar project is substantially in accord with the county’s comprehensive plan, which was amended in 2019 and called for the consideration of the safe development of solar energy.,” Natasha Montague public engagement manager for the project, said. “In addition, consistent with the comprehensive plan, Red Brick Solar will protect and preserve the natural resources of the community while also promoting the expansion of a diversified economy and a clean-living environment. Finally, the Red Brick Solar project will provide significant long-term revenue to the county, which is estimated to be approximately $12.1 million over the life of the project.”

Are you for or against the Red Brick Solar project?

  • Against (50%, 3 Votes)
  • For (33%, 2 Votes)
  • No opinion (17%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 6

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Red Brick proposed to construct and operate a utility-scale solar facility located on 21 individual parcels of property. The project would place a solar photovoltaic power plant across 935 acres situated in north-central Lunenburg County, about four miles southwest of Victoria.

According to the grounds for appeal document submitted by Gentry Locke Attorneys,

Red Brick Solar has demonstrated that the project is substantially in accord with the Lunenburg – Kenbridge – Victoria Joint Comprehensive Plan dated 2019-2024

“The applicant has reduced the size of the project based on public and county feedback,” the document states.

The project has been in the planning stages for several years.

In 2020, the applicant submitted a revised application that reduced the project’s overall size by several hundred acres.

“Further, the applicant has committed that the total acreage within the project’s fenced area will not exceed 1,118 acres. Notably, Red Brick has removed land that was on the northern side of the project above the CCC Road over concerns that this portion of the project was the most prolific land used by a local hunting club,” Puvak said.

According to appeal documents, a staff report prepared by the Planning and Economic Development office misstated the project’s important character, one of that being where the project is located.

“The staff report states that the project is located in an area of rural residential and farmland. The application property is 100% timber use,” the document said.

Puvak said the first goals stated in the county’s comprehensive plan relate to the economy and employment.

“This project will have a meaningful impact on the county’s commercial tax base,” Puvak said. “This project will create $197,000 in additional tax revenues/revenue share in the first year of operations and every year over the life of the project with 10% increases in this amount every five years.”

According to Puvak, this results in a $12.1 million in cumulative county revenue of the projects’ anticipated 40-year life span.

This estimate includes the real estate tax and revenue share and does not account for construction spending or participating landowners’ revenues.

Upon receiving Red Brick Solars’ appeal, the Planning and Economic Development office responded, stating that several items in the appeal document were incorrect.

The response was submitted by former Planning Director Glenn Millican, Jr. who left his position at the end of March.

“The staff recommendation concluded that the proposal only added tax payments and a share of the revenue based on the amount of power produced and sold, which cannot be determined at present,” the response stated. “It does not add community value. It provides little in the way of economic development, community involvement, environmental sustainability, local infrastructure, or support of local forestry and agricultural industry.”

The Planning and Economic Development office’s response noted that the project location is not ideally suited to the property chosen and represents an undesirable land-use decision to some members of the Planning Commission.

“The applicant claims that soils are suitable and geotechnical studies have been completed that support that position. The applicant has never submitted any studies or data to support this position.” Millican said. “Studies performed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, while general in nature, bring this position into question. The commission cannot use unsupported contentions as evidence in making decisions.”

According to the Planning Commission, the projected revenue share has yet to be determined and does little for economic development.

“Tax payments are not and should not be confused with economic development,” the commission said. “Electrical power is a fungible commodity, not necessarily a catalyst for development.”

The commission further stated that construction spending for the project would be short-lived. “Economic development depends on money changing hands multiple times within a specified area. Such a monetary flow is measured by the number of times it changes hands and is termed in economics as the velocity of money. Monetary velocity drives economic development.” the commission response said. “Increases in real estate tax collections generate little velocity and do little for economic development. The applicant cites a study in their application that supports the position that there is a little or no economic multiplier effect.”

The issue will now fall to the Board of Supervisors, who are scheduled to hear the appeal at its May meeting.

If the Board of Supervisors determines that this solar project is substantially in accord with the county’s comprehensive plan, the next steps will be submitting a conditional use permit (CUP) application to be reviewed through a public hearing process with the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Assuming the CUP is approved, the Red Brick Solar project will still need to obtain state-level water and environmental permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.