Following a flurry of approvals that began a little more than a year ago, Campbell County supervisors have approved the fourth solar farm in the county.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the board of supervisors unanimously approved a proposal from project manager Charlie Falter to construct, operate and maintain a 500-acre solar energy facility east of Brookneal Highway in Gladys, on property adjoining the Brookneal airport.
Happening as the first solar farm in Campbell County is breaking ground, and while Bedford and Appomattox counties see a similar movement toward solar energy, the approval represents a growing trend in the Lynchburg area.
The request is from Pigeon Run Solar LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hanwha Energy USA Holdings Corporation. The proposed project site sits on more than 1,000 acres. The amount of energy generated over the course of one year at the 60-megawatt facility would be enough to power about 13,000 single-family homes, according to Falter.
Falter works for 174 Power Global, another Hanwha group affiliate company, based in Irvine, California.
“This is clean renewable energy that is being brought to bear. Solar has become extremely competitive with all forms of energy generation,” Falter said, citing coal plants that are shutting down across the country. “Solar is more competitive and environmentally friendly and is helping to replace those coal plants that are shutting down and helping to supply new demand for electricity that continues to emerge as our country continues to grow.”
The solar farm is expected to provide 180 full-time-equivalent jobs created during construction and a property tax revenue of about $100,000 in the first year of operations and an average of $50,000 per year over the 35-year life of the project — more than 10 times the tax revenue the land currently generates, according to Falter.
Last month, the Campbell County Planning Commission, which acts as a recommending body to the board of supervisors, recommended denial of the project with a split vote after more than an hour of conversation. The planning commission’s primary concern was the proximity of the solar farm to the Brookneal airport would cause a glare that could become a safety hazard.
Rustburg District Supervisor Jon Hardie voiced a similar fear Tuesday.
“Anyone coming in and our of that airport is a priority to me,” Hardie said.
Falter said the company had a glare study completed by an independent agency following Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. The study found that the solar facility, as proposed, would not pose a glare risk to aircraft in the area.
Falter referenced 15 airports in the U.S. that have solar installations on their property, emphasizing that “solar projects can exist at airports and be consistent with safe operations.”
Planning commission representative Dean Monroe, who initially voted against the project in December, spoke in favor of the solar farm Tuesday night. He said he spoke with airports around the country coexist with solar farms and found that as long as they conduct a glare study they can safely coexist.
He said Falter also addressed his concerns regarding the proposed setbacks, increasing both the distance between solar panels and property boundaries as well as the setback from residences to substantial equipment.
“I have to say that Falter and his staff have done a great job on addressing everything that we gave him,” Monroe said. “I can tell you that the proposal that you have in front of you right now, I would have voted differently.”
Campbell County resident Walter Bass, who owns the property adjacent to the airport slated for the solar farm’s construction, also spoke in favor of the project.
He said he uses the land to grow pine, a market that is saturated, and leasing the land gives him another avenue for income. He said solar panels would be more beneficial and offer 10 to 15 times the tax payoff to the county.
“Solar farms, I think, are coming. This will be an opportunity for Campbell County to capitalize on one for themselves and get more benefit out of it,” Bass said.
Falter said company officials currently do not have a buyer for the energy the proposed solar farm would produce. But he added the field is extremely competitive, particularly since large corporations such as Facebook and Amazon have begun to purchase solar power.
Last month, it was announced Facebook would buy power from a 1,200-acre solar farm greenlighted outside Altavista. Campbell County supervisors also have approved a 150-acre project near Rustburg and a 660-acre facility off Gladys Road.
Brookneal District Supervisor Charlie Watts motioned to approve the newest solar farm, citing Falter and his team’s willingness to communicate and make changes that work for the county.
With the project’s approval, Falter said the company hopes to finish development by the end of 2020 and begin construction by 2021. Company officials hope to have a process in partial operation by the end of 2021.