Supervisors approve amendment to Special Use Permit for solar farm

The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved an amendment to a Special Use Permit for the New River Valley Solar Project.

Sought by the developer of the project, Hecate Energy Pulaski, LLC the amendment makes changes to the original Special Use Permit approved by the supervisors in January.

According to Planning and Zoning Director Elaine Holeton, the amendment would slightly increase the land area for the project, but less land would actually be covered by solar panels due to the use of higher efficiency panels that will be 20 percent more efficient.

Two parcels are being added to the project area, with one of those being used primarily as a point of interconnection to the existing utility line.

Another parcel north of Ruebush Road will be removed from the project area, while yet another parcel will no longer house solar arrays, but will be used mostly for the utility line connection.

According to Chris Tuck, an area attorney working on behalf of Hecate Energy Pulaski, told the supervisors Monday the project will now have 19 percent fewer solar panels.

The proposed solar project is expected to produce up to 280 megawatts (MW) of energy that can power more than 30,000 homes. It is to be located near the New River Valley Airport and NRV Commerce Park in Dublin.

Hecate says the project will be the second largest solar farm in Virginia and the third largest on the East Coast.

Despite the proposed amendment, the project will still be constructed in three phases, but each phase now has a different name to differentiate them from electrical substations with the same names.

Phase One (150 MW) is now Pulaski rather than Hazel Hollow, Phase Two (100 MW) is now Bella Terra rather than Morgan’s Cut, and Phase Three (30 MW) retains the name of Wurno.

Tuck said even with the amendment many elements of the project have not changed since January, including the economic benefit to the county, the decommission plan, the proposed conditions, the plan to buffer and landscape and the general intent of the project.

Previously, Tuck said 160 construction jobs will be created by the project but noted that another 190 “ancillary” jobs will also be created. Those jobs, he added, would create approximately $18 million in associated labor income and about $47 million in economic output.

He also said 12 full-time equivalent jobs would be created by the project with annual labor income of some $850,000 and approximately $1.7 million in economic output.

Approximately $735,000 in tax revenue would be generated for the county in the first year as well, Tuck noted.  He said over 25 years tax revenue for the county would be approximately $12 million. All with no impact on county services, he said.

According to Jay Poole of Hecate, the total investment in the project is anticipated to be in excess of $400 million. According to Poole, it would be one of the largest capital investments in the history of the region.

A public hearing on the amendment was part of Monday’s meeting and one citizen, Betsy Mabry questioned whether county officials had confirmed Hecate’s financial ability to build the project, and whether a “forensic audit” had been done by the county.

Another citizen asked about the timeline of the project. Tuck told the supervisors Hecate projects breaking ground in the third quarter of 2022.

As for the financial question, Tuck said Hecate is a “rock solid company” that had just sold a project in Texas for just over $500 million.

“We are ready and able to invest $400 million right here in Pulaski County,” Tuck stated.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said he is not aware of the county ever conducting a “forensic audit” of any of the county’s “current businesses, new businesses, prospects or suspects,” but it does look at financial data that is available to anyone.

Ingles District Supervisor Laura Walters said her research led her to believe Hecate is the “cream of the crop” of solar companies.

The board approved the amendment to the SUP on a 3-1-1 vote with Walters, Draper’s Dirk Compton and Massie’s John Travis all voting to approve the amendment. Robinson’s Charlie Bopp voted against it, and Cloyd’s Joe Guthrie abstained.