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LETTER – Red Brick Solar project could be a catastrophic

To the Editor:

I do not know where to begin, as your recent rambling on the proposed Red Brick Solar industrial mega-site is so wrong on so many levels it is laughable.  You mention in your ramblings that this solar industrial mega site will make the 1,000 acres more valuable.  You are right about that, but not much else.  The landowners will make bank, but there is a significant downside that has the potential to tear this county apart.

You state that the $197,000 over 40 years will bring the county $12.1 million in revenue. Lunenburg County’s budget for 2019 was $32,853,957.  Assuming your $197,000 figure is correct, which by the way it is not, that would be .00599 or 6/10ths of 1% of the county budget.

The reality is that the $197,000 promise is illusory.  The county does not assess or set this rate, the State Corporation Commission does, and most of these projects are depreciated over their declared lifespan, say 20 to 25 years.  That means that even if the $197,000 does appear year one, it will never be the same again.  For example, if it is depreciated over 20 years which is beneficial for the project’s financers, then it goes to zero year 20.  The average is one half of the $197,000 or $98,500 per year on average in a perfect world if we believe the Red Brick numbers.  That equals 3/10ths of one percent of the county budget ,or 30 cents for every $100 the county spends over that 20-year time span.  If you want to see Red Brick backpedal, ask them to bond the $197,000 per year for the life of the project.

To proceed, general oversight and control of the project are given away.  That’s right, Lunenburg, the Old Free State, cedes control to the state.  Lunenburg does not assess the project, Lunenburg does not collect a tools tax, Lunenburg issues no building permit.  Lunenburg has no say if the subsidies that make this possible dry up or if the project goes horribly wrong, but Lunenburg is left holding the bag and is ultimately responsible for cleanup and eventual restoration of the property which could cost millions upon millions of dollars at some yet to be determined future date and could cost millions more in mitigation of environmental contamination if the panels are compromised, releasing their toxic chemicals either by weather event or normal wear and tear.  Look up Cadmium Telluride, PFAS Chemicals and Gen X Chemicals if you would like to learn a little more.  Again, if you want to see some backpedaling, how about asking Red Brick to post a realistic cleanup bond instead of one recommended by the industry.

Also lacking in your rambling is any discussion of the proposed location of this Industrial solar mega site.  It is in the worst possible location one could pick in Lunenburg County, and that is on the headwaters of the Meherrin River.  The very river that Lunenburg found important enough to designate as scenic just a few years ago.  This is predominantly steep, and highly erodible land that does not fit Dominion Energy’s own pronouncements on proper site selection as put forth in Dominion Energy’s solar energy report to the governor, chairmen of the house and senate committee on commerce and labor, and the State Corporation Commission dated November 1, 2018 on page 18-19 where Dominion clearly states, “It can’t be just any land.  Generally, usable land should not exceed 8% slope, and it should require minimum grading as well as clearing and grubbing.”  The Planning Commission and supervisors have all been provided copies of this report.

It is my understanding that to get the 1,000 acres of panels, the actual footprint of this industrial site is closer to 1,500 acres.  This is predominantly timberland, predominantly sloped, and requires extensive clearing and grubbing of over two square miles of land.  We learned the potential downside of this from the “Grasshopper” project in Chase City where Dominion Energy cannot control their erosion and sediment problems with 500 acres of panels placed on open pastureland.  Due to those ongoing problems, they have effectively destroyed Butchers Creek.  If Dominion with their bottomless checkbook and endless rate increases cannot control 500 acres of pastureland, we know better than to believe that “Red Brick, LLC,” whoever they are, can control a site several times that size that needs extensive excavation including the grubbing up of hundreds of stumps per acre.

The engineer that designed the erosion and sediment system at “Grasshopper” spoke at the Lunenburg Planning Commission meeting when the Red Brick Mega Site was voted down.  He stated that “if we have a catastrophe, DEQ will take care of it.” DEQ is the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and he is right about one thing.  They take charge of the site in regard to environmental problems when the county relinquishes control, just as the State Corporation Commission takes care of tax assessment, taxation, inspection, etc.  When I say Lunenburg loses control, I mean it.  Lunenburg can’t even issue a building permit, as all is controlled by the state due to this being a utility.

To compound matters, DEQ is derelict in their duty by permitting solar projects by right and not enforcing the regulations that everyone else has to follow.  This means if we have a “catastrophe” like Dominion’s Grasshopper site did when its storm water management system failed six or more times last year, we have learned the hard way that DEQ will turn a blind eye.  They will not even come when you call.  If the Meherrin River gets destroyed, it will be Lunenburg’s responsibility to clean it up at taxpayer expense.  If the site gets contaminated, it will be Lunenburg’s responsibility to clean it up at taxpayer expense.  If this devolves into lawsuits, it will be Lunenburg’s responsibility to clean it up at taxpayer expense.  If full time legal representation is needed because of this, it will be Lunenburg’s responsibility to provide it at taxpayer expense.  If a full-time employee or two and a vehicle is required to monitor and mitigate the mess likely to be created, it will be Lunenburg’s responsibility to pay for it at taxpayer expense.  And so on and so forth.  Again, if you want to see more backpedaling, ask Red Brick to indemnify the county against all of the above, because with the free pass DEQ is giving these projects they might as well close their doors.

Fortunately, the Planning Commission members, most of them anyway, were intelligent enough to realize that selling out the Meherrin for what amounts to little or no net gain for the county and more likely a significant long-term burden is not a good idea.  Hopefully the supervisors will do the same.

In closing, there are sites that will work for this type of project in the county, and doubtless we will see this type of development.  The proposed Red Brick site, however, just carries too much potential downside.  It is not worth putting the Meherrin at risk for what amounts to an illusory promise of money.

Red Brick is appealing the Planning Commission’s well thought out and proper decision to deny their application to the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors, and this appeal is to be heard in their next regular meeting Thursday, May 13, at 6 p.m.  Please attend and voice your opinion.

John Janson

South Hill