80 MW solar power facility coming to Accomack County

ByCarol Vaughn, Eastern Shore News

ACCOMAC, Va. (AP) — Accomack County soon could be home to the largest solar energy facility on the East Coast, after county officials approved a conditional use permit and rezoning to accommodate the project.

No members of the public spoke at two public hearings for the project held by the Accomack County Board of Supervisors.

The 80-megawatt facility, to be located on about 1,000 acres near Oak Hall, will cost $125 million to $150 million to construct and will generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes, according to Community Energy Solar official Tom Tuffey.

The company has been working on obtaining necessary local, state and industry approvals for about four years, he said, adding, "We've put together a project we are proud of."

Rezoning of more than 7 acres from residential to agricultural is to allow a connector station to be built close to the existing Oak Hall electrical substation on Withams Road. The project also requires a conditional use permit.

Four subprojects in the proposal encompass a total of 44 properties owned by seven different owners; the company would hold a 30-year lease on the land.

Among conditions the company accepted is that it will use United States contractors for the project.

"I appreciate them including that," said Supervisor Robert Crockett.

The company also proffered to install an educational "solar walk" at the facility, along with a proffer to install $100,000 in solar equipment, likely at the county administration building, for county use.

Additionally, Community Energy will give $100,000 to clean up derelict properties in the county.

Some supervisors said they are concerned at the large amount of land being taken out of agricultural use.

"In the end, this is a net loss for Accomack County," said Supervisor Grayson Chesser, who said the company will not pay the county tax on equipment because of a provision in state law.

Supervisor Kay Lewis agreed with Chesser about the loss of farmland being a negative.

But in the end, all supervisors present voted to approve the permit and rezoning.

Community Energy has been in the alternative energy business for 15 years and has completed some two dozen solar and wind energy facilities totaling more than 100 megawatts in eight states, with three additional projects similar in size to the proposed Accomack County one underway now.

The Virginia project will create four full-time electrical technician jobs in addition to another eight or so grounds-keeping jobs, Tuffey said.

It also will result in about $100,000 more a year in local tax revenue, he said.

Real estate taxes paid by landowners leasing to the company will be about six times higher than when the land was in agricultural use, according to Accomack County Planning Director Rich Morrison.

"It's on the order of $1.3 million a year that comes into the economy, including the payments to landowners," Tuffey said.

He predicted the project will attract positive media attention to the county. "Clean energy, it will brand the community ... It's a very large, important project."

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