By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County Planning Commission voted 4-2 Tuesday to recommend approval of a Special Use Permit application by Helios Solar, LLC to develop an 11.45-megawatt solar project in the Shiloh area of the county.
The application now goes to the Board of Supervisors which has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for 7 p.m. on Aug. 22 at the County Administration Building in Pulaski.
Energix, the developer and long-term owner of Helios Solar, is based in Arlington and bills itself as one of the leading solar energy companies in Virginia with eight operational projects, six more under construction this year and more in development.
The project, which Energix proposes to be developed on nearly 100 acres in Shiloh on property owned by Lyom De Moraes at 3063 Lowmans Ferry Road, would provide enough electricity to power 2,000 homes, according to the company.
Energix says the project will contribute approximately $2.7 million to Pulaski County in economic and tax benefits over the life of the project through primarily machinery and tools taxes.
It is estimated the project will create approximately 70 “well-paying” construction jobs and stimulate local hospitality businesses during construction.
Energix says the useful lifespan of the project is 35 years, after which the project will be decommissioned, with removal of all above- and below-ground equipment and seeding the soil with local grass mixes.
A surety bond will be posted to guarantee decommissioning.
“Adding more renewable energy resources in Pulaski County will increase the potential for sustainability-conscious businesses and industries to set up their operations in the county, bringing in more revenue, jobs and other economic opportunities,” the company’s literature on the project states.
The project as proposed would be located on farmland located along Lowman’s Ferry Road, just after and behind Lake Ridge Road and its residential community.
Tuesday’s meeting of the planning commission was the second on the solar project. It was discussed last month by the commission, then tabled until this week.
Since that first meeting, the developer put conditions on the development in an effort to work with nearby property owners – including fencing, adding vegetation to buffer the project from view and changing the planned position of solar panels on the northeast corner of the project away from two adjoining properties. Additional vegetative plantings to block the view of the project by Lake Ridge residents is also planned.
During a public hearing at Tuesday’s meeting, one nearby property owner – Wayne Burchett – expressed concerns about his “viewshed,” and his being able to see the project from his property once fall arrives and trees lose their leaves.
Burchett said his brother – a Realtor in Roanoke – said the values of adjoining properties would be adversely affected by the solar project.
Burchett asked commissioners if they would want such a project near their properties.
Other citizens expressed concerns about water runoff from the project, viewshed concerns, insects and the need for county officials charged with making a decision to pay close attention to details of the project.
Some citizens and members of the commission expressed concern over a solar project in Wythe County, which is also owned by Energix and which there were reported issues during construction.
A representative for Energix at Tuesday’s meeting said sequencing errors were made during the construction process by a hired contractor. She said Energix assumed full responsibility for the errors and has worked diligently with both the Town of Wytheville and the state Department of Environmental Quality to ensure all issues are addressed.
Following the public hearing, commissioner Al Smith offered a motion to recommend denial of the application to supervisors. Commissioner Malcolm Booth seconded the motion.
The motion was defeated on a 4-2 vote.
Next, commissioner Andy McCready – the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the planning commission – offered a motion to recommend approval of the application with the conditions offered by the developer. Commissioner David Hill seconded the motion.
It was approved on a 4-2 vote.